Opera: Hard habit to break
Saturday 13 February 1999
POULENC'S LAST operas could hardly be more different: Les dialogues des Carmelites, a grand opera about nuns, their spiritual sublimity threatened by a very French revolution; La voix humaine, a tiny monologue in which a woman tortures herself by repeatedly phoning her lover, who wants to cut the connection forever.
Political and religious torment in one, private crisis in the other; and women the fulcrum of both. Poulenc identified completely with his female protagonist. "Blanche," he said of the novice at the centre of Dialogues, "was me, and is still me." Far from being the carefree charmer of musical legend, Poulenc, at least here, plumbed considerable personal depths.
You might think La voix humaine the more likely project for student performance, but Trinity College is nothing if not ambitious and, in Poulenc's centenary year, its staging of Dialogues (sung in English) showed its musical strength in depth: a large orchestra and a cast of dozens gave their all, and if the drama was intermittent, some of the fault may be the opera's. Where Poulenc saw saintliness in the nuns' sacrifices, we might see only misguided waste, yet as the score lines the nuns up at the guillotine, only to deprive them one by one of their heads, it is impossible to remain unmoved. At this moment, Kresimir Dolencic's plain production finds its target.
Poulenc makes heavy demands of his singers, in simply keeping going. The vocal style, taking a lead from Debussy, is an inch away from conversational recitative, with vocal display at a minimum. The singers get through vast amounts of text, so communication is at a premium. These are voices with time to grow, and not everyone got their text across in Spitalfields' rather unyielding acoustic, but there were several successes.
There's not much room for men in Dialogues, but Benjamin Lake makes the marquis a burly, insensitive brute, just the kind of father to drive Blanche to the nunnery. When there, she finds Edel O'Brien's remarkable Prioress, refusing to go gently into God's arms in a death scene of hair-raising intensity: a pity the libretto kills her off so early. Poulenc, though, wanted attention to focus on Blanche and here, in Ksenia Eremina Jones, he has a singer to watch closely. Her diction is clear, she acts well, and the voice is bright, even and expressive: ingredients, with a bit of luck thrown in, on which to build a solid career.
The performances benefited from the precisely sculpted conducting of Andrea Quinn, who also ensured that the orchestra got the measure of Poulenc's ebbing, flowing dramatic pulse. Over the past four years, Trinity's performances at Spitalfields have added considerably to London's operatic life. A shame, then, that for yet more "retail development", the Market Opera building will shortly be demolished. As the rich get richer, culture gets poorer: a familiar story.
Further performance of `Dialogues', Spitalfields Market Opera, 4-5 Lamb Street, E1, 7.30pm, Saturday 13 February, (0171-377 1362)
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 3 Crystal Palace next manager latest: Palace consider Ally McCoist - EXCLUSIVE
- 4 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Coolio has sold his soul to Pornhub
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile