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Spain: Oviedo.

The Robert Carsen/Michael Levine production of Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites opends the 61st season of the Teatro de Campoamor in Sepember in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo. Carsen and Levine made their debut at Oviedo with Janacek's Jenufa in 2005, returning now with Poulenc's exquisite, sensitive and extremely intelligent piece in a production that has toured extensively since its debut at Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. The geometric layout had very few props and the pearl, grey, plain backdrop conveyed warmth and space. There were no doors, no convent cells, no grillwork, no crucifixes, not an altar in sight in this profoundly religious work. Stage movement was flowing; at times the nuns became the actual props--a wall for example--while costume changes on stage were beautifully choreo--graphed. Jean Kalman triumphed in the atmospheric lighting of shadows, and carefully positioned, flickering candles and bonfires. Brilliant white spotlights from above alternated with gentle yellow from the sides.

The libretto and setting are so compelling in Carmelites that the voices run the risk of playing second fiddle to the stage. Not so for soprano Maria Bayo, whose penetrating lyrical voice particularly suits the French language. Her characterisation of the novice Blanche was weighty, carefully measuring the role through to its andante climax, when she joined her sisters at the scaffold. Elena de la Merced disappointed, her soprano voice seems to have lost its crystal luminosity and this made for a strained novice Constance. Romanian mezzo Viorica Cortes in now over 70, but no matter. She gave a dramatic vocal and extraordinarily theatrical interpretation of the dying Mother Superior, a role that is definitely hers. Maximiano Valdes was the uninspired conductor of the Sinfonica del Principado de Asturias. The orchestra missed out on the pulsating rhythm, mystery and disturbing subtleties of this tour de force exploring the proposition, "We do not die for ourselves alone, but for each other".
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Author:Johnson, Victoria Stapells
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Opera review
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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