Dialogues des Carmélites

An examination of life, death and the illusions our fears can foster

Presented by the Canadian Opera Company
Conductor: Johannes Debus
Director: Robert Carsen


A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Dialogues des Carmélites, 2013. Photo by Michael Cooper.

The Canadian Opera Company's production of Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites, now on stage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, questions the amount of control each of us has over the path our lives take. Are we simply victims of fate or does living a righteous life offer us salvation? Can avoiding our fears keep us safe? 

The opera follows Blanche de la Force (Isabel Bayrakdarian), a timid girl whose life is greatly dictated by fear, a trait that she alludes to have been born possessing, as though she has no choice in the matter. Driven by this fear and her belief that she is not of the constitution to live in the world as she knows it, she concludes that she must join a Carmelite Monastery.

Blanche proceeds to enact her solution immediately, and approaches the Mother Superior of the Carmelite Order (Judith Forst), requesting the name Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ. It is at this point that the first of Blanche’s various misconceptions begin to emerge. Despite being genuinely devoted, she sees the Carmelite Order as a refuge, a protective element, but what she is missing is that by devoting her life to the order she is not gaining her own protection but actually offering her life in sacrifice, as a martyr. It’s interesting to watch a character so tormented by fear as she builds a false sense of security that serves only to dull her senses to the point that when true danger approaches she is caught off guard. Her fate is realized in the stunning, emotionally-charged final guillotine scene which, at once, is the most beautiful and the most violent scene I’ve ever seen. Truly stunning, and the crown jewel of this piece.

Musically the opera is crisp and clean, offering a lean backdrop to the libretto which presents a quiet examination of the human condition. Unlike some of the more classical operas in which the characters' stories are woven together, culminating in massive dramatic twists, the individuals in this piece maintain a significant degree of separation. Each character appears, for the most part, to remain unaffected by the others. They interact with each other, but are influenced strictly by internal motivations. No one is driven mad with love or becomes crazed with revenge, each character’s journey is much more internalized. While there is communication between characters, it’s almost as if the dialogue becomes a series of internal monologues, rather than true conversations.

Visually the production aligns with the overall simplistic approach. While there is not a conventional physical set, director Robert Carsen does present and incredibly interesting interpretation in his use of the cast to create the “walls” of each scene. Particularly in the opening scene where Blanche and her family discuss an incident involving an angry mob while surrounded by looming figures in dark clothing. Also of note is the way in which scene transitions are handled, the “crowd” crosses the stage with each individual, completing a single task, which results in a flawless, almost melting effect that is totally unique, and a tribute to the skills of choreographer Philippe Giraudeau.

Dialogues des Carmélites runs until May 25 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Visit coc.ca for more information and to buy tickets.


Show Dates: 
Wed, 2013-05-08 - Sat, 2013-05-25
Our rating:


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