My brain space was experiencing a spurt of reflective energy as I walked to the Four Seasons Centre to meet my Aunt for the final show of the Canadian Opera season. I couldn’t help but fall back in time, running through the top performances which I had experienced with my good friends and family this past year.
After taking a few pictures around the space we found our seats at Orchestra level and prepared to be wowed by Dialogues des Carmélites. Entering the theatre the curtain was drawn so the audience could peak onto the stage which featured several resting nun’s habits. A curious introduction.
Francis Poulenc’s 1957 opera is based on the true story of how 16 nuns from a Carmelite convent in France were guillotined in 1794 at the height of the Revolution, when organized religion fell under suspicion. The production is an unusual one, void of the romance and melodrama so many of us associate with the artform. The story here focuses on exploring one’s relationship with God and death.
The story revolves around Blanche, a nervous nelly of a woman who flees secular life for the convent, thinking she will find peace from violence and chaos, only to be informed that the sisters inside have to live with more inner strength than the men in the world.
Director Robert Carsen focuses on the psychological states of the characters, using a minimalist approach. No fancy sets, or opulent outfits here. The mob of revolutionaries, consisting of over 100 create fantastic transitions as a choir that represent the political unrest in France. The staging of these bodies throughout the show was thought provoking and impactful. The first scene for example includes our main characters who appear to be talking in an intimate room within their home. These hundred or so members of the choir surround the conversation creating believable walls with hearts beating and chests heaving.
The show deals with humanities struggle with religion, God and our fear and acceptance of death. The final scene is an iconic one which will forever be implanted into our minds. As the Carmelites head toward their fate with Madame La Guillotine the audience holds its breath. Our nuns are dressed in long white nighties, crawling away from the stage and towards the audience as a thunderous drum from below makes us jump from our seats. Slowly each of these heroic women twist onto the floor, one by one, signifying a noble martyrdom.