|Dialogues des Carmelites, photo @ Ken Howard|
Poulenc's masterpiece Dialogues des Carmelites only has three performances at the Met this season. Which means ... you should definitely try to catch one of the two remaining performances either in person or in HD, because opera does not get more devastating than this. I went in only having seen the opera on video. Nothing could have prepared me for the impact of seeing it live in person. This is the sort of opera that makes you unable to sleep at night.
|Isabel Leonard and Karila Mattila, photo @ Ken Howard|
Part of this might be due to the timbre of her voice. It is a smooth but somewhat generic-sounding lyric mezzo that sounds rather mature and not like the "little rabbit" her brother calls her. The role also lies too high for her as some of her high notes were shrieky. The role is usually sung by a soprano. Leonard gave a vey competent, professional performance. It just wasn't transporting.
Karita Mattila as Madame de Croissy was a case of mind over matter. Mattila has charisma to burn and was a compelling actress. Whenever she was onstage you couldn't take your eyes off her. Her death scene was scenery-chewing in the best way -- she let out a primal scream as her body contorted with pain. Her voice however is still definitely a soprano and she didn't have the low notes for the role -- sometimes they were little more than inaudible growls. But she's such a treasurable artist and it's always great to see her onstage.
|Pieczonka and Cargill, photo @ Ken Howard|
Karen Cargill (Mother Marie) exuded an outwardly kindly persona and has a large, powerful mezzo. I do wish her timbre was darker and thus more of a contrast with the four other major female singers onstage. I had the same complaint about her Erda -- one simply wishes for a darker, plummier sound than Cargill could provide. Mother Marie is also the one character who is manipulative and cowardly, and Cargill didn't explore that side of her character as much.
|Erin Morley, photo @ Ken Howard|
The is such a female-dominated opera that the male voices are often forgotten about. And so it was tonight -Jean-François Lapointe (Marquis de la Force), David Portillo (Chevalier de la Force), Tony Stevenson (Chaplain) and Patrick Carfizzi (Jailer) were all fine but not memorable. Donald Palumbo's chorus sounded magnificent.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin led a decent performance from the pit, although he has a few tendencies that are troubling. One is his tendency to overpower the singers with the huge orchestra. Another is his way of leading the orchestra in a very logical, timely fashion (for once the running times were on-the-minute accurate) without contrasting the different moods and rhythms in Poulenc's score for maximum impact. And I don't know whether this is due to a lack of rehearsal or what but the singers' march through the black door did not coordinate perfectly with the famous guillotine slices in the final moments of the opera.
|Dexter's production in the final moments, photo @ Ken Howard|
This cast is not perfect, but if you buy a ticket you will not be disappointed. Poulenc's rich, melodious score makes it the perfect 20th century opera for opera lovers who don't like 20th century opera. The fact that this is based on a true story only makes it more devastating. What was moving in 1794 is still moving in 2019. It's always inspiring to see people who were willing to die rather than sacrifice their beliefs and principles.