The Canadian Opera Company closes its 2012/2013 season with a production of Francis Poulenc's operatic masterpiece, Dialogues des Carmélites, described by Variety as "subtle, yet gut-wrenching." Internationally renowned Canadian director Robert Carsen returns to the COC for a third consecutive season to direct a cast of 161 performers, led by three Canadian opera stars: Isabel Bayrakdarian, Adrianne Pieczonka andJudith Forst. COC Music Director Johannes Debus makes his fourth conducting appearance of the 12/13 season leading his first Dialogues des Carmélites. He conducts the COC Orchestra and Chorus through what is considered to be Poulenc's most haunting score and a work that contains one of opera's most devastating and unforgettable final scenes. Dialogues des Carmélites is sung in French with English SURTITLES. Last performed by the COC in 1997, the opera returns to the company for eight performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on May 8, 11, 14, 17, 19, 21, 23 and 25, 2013.
After his triumphant return to the COC with Orfeo ed Euridice, proclaimed by the Globe and Mail as "This is why we go to the opera," and Iphigenia in Tauris, for which the Toronto Sun said Carsen's "genius seems to know no bounds," RobertCarsen now brings to a hometown audience his signature streamlined but high-impact approach to Dialogues des Carmélites. Created for Nederlandse Opera in 1997, Carsen's acclaimed production comes to Toronto after being seen at some of the world's great opera houses, including La Scala and Lyric Opera of Chicago. Its set design is by acclaimed Canadian designer Michael Levine, last with the COC for 2011's Rigoletto, lighting design is by Jean Kalman, the costume design evoking late 18th-century France is by Falk Bauer, and choreography is by Philippe Giraudeau, who was last with the COC for 2011's Iphigenia in Tauris.
Dialogues des Carmélites' music sets the tone for the story of an order of Carmelite nuns caught up in the terror of the French Revolution. Carsen's direction in Dialogues des Carmélites focuses on the psychological states of the characters, using a minimalist approach that allows for a seamless flow from one scene to another. The mob of revolutionaries, consisting of over 100 supernumeraries, is used with simple but tremendous impact to represent the political unrest of France. The result is a work that "pierces the heart" (Chicago Tribune) and has been described as "inventive and primally affecting . . . confirming the status of Dialogues as one of twentieth-century opera's great theatrical achievements" (Opera News).
A largely Canadian cast of internationally renowned singers as well as rising stars has been assembled for the COC's production. At the helm of the mostly female cast is soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka and mezzo-soprano Judith Forst.
Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian delighted audiences and critics alike with recent COC performances in 2011's The Magic Flute and Orfeo ed Euridice. She returns as the young aristocrat Blanche, who attempts to escape the turmoil of the Revolution by joining the Carmelite order. Bayrakdarian's Blanche has been described as "a formidable dramatic creation, glowingly sung and poignantly nuanced," by Opera News. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, last with the COC in 2012 with a "luminous performance" (Globe and Mail) as Tosca, has been hailed for her "impeccably pure and iridescent voice" (Financial Times). She returns to make her role debut as Madame Lidoine, the new prioress. Recognized as one of Canada's most distinguished artists, with a legendary career of performances across North America and Europe with many of the world's most prestigious companies, Judith Forst was last with the COC in 2002's The Queen of Spades. She returns as Madame de Croissy, the prioress of the convent, a role she has sung to great acclaim, with her performance called a "tour de force" by the Vancouver Sun.
Canadian soprano Hélène Guilmette, a rising star who has distinguished herself in opera, concert and recital performances across Europe and in Quebec, makes her COC debut as Sister Constance. Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura, a frequent performer at the Metropolitan Opera and well-known to audiences throughout North America and Europe, returns to the COC following her past star turns in 2009's Rusalka and 2005's Il Trovatore to sing Mother Marie. Canadian mezzo-soprano Megan Latham, last with the COC in 2011's Rigoletto, returns to bring her "clear and honey-coloured voice" (Opera Canada) to the role of the aged nun, Mother Jeanne. COC Ensemble Studio mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb, who has gained critical and popular attention in the Ensemble Studio performances of La clemenza di Tito and Semele, rounds out the order of Carmelite nuns as Sister Mathilde.
Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapointe makes a long-awaited return to the COC as Blanche's father, the Marquis de la Force. Last with the COC in 2000 as Pelléas in Pelléas et Mélisande, Lapointe has earned critical praise for performances in Paris, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Vienna, Zurich, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Glasgow, Hamburg, Berlin, and Los Angeles. Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun, last with COC as Tamino in the 2011 production of The Magic Flute and becoming a much sought-after performer in North America, is the Chevalier de la Force, his son. A roster of notable Ensemble Studio graduates round out the cast: baritone Doug MacNaughton is Thierry, the footman, and Monsieur Javelinot, the doctor; tenor Michael Colvin is the Chaplain; tenor Adam Luther is the First Commissioner; and baritone Peter Barrett is the Jailer. American bass-baritone Evan Boyer is the Second Commissioner and Ensemble Studio baritone Cameron McPhail is an Officer. Une Voix, an off stage voice that calls out to Blanche, is Ensemble Studio soprano Claire de Sévigné.
Francis Poulenc's early career was marked by a hedonistic enthusiasm that he attributed to his maternal Parisian ancestry. It was the rediscovery of his Catholic faith later in life that brought a more spiritual tone to his work. Poulenc composed Dialogues des Carmélites, his second opera, between 1953 and 1956, and suffered a nervous breakdown during the years of its composition, reportedly because he empathized so deeply with the nuns' plight. His great love of the human voice and a desire to stage texts that were compelling in their literary and poetic qualities created a work that leaves one undeniably moved by the nuns' profound strength and tragic end.
Dialogues des Carmélites, in an Italian-language version, premiered in Milan in 1957, followed by French- and English-language versions that same year in Paris and San Francisco. Many productions of the work quickly followed with the opera receiving wide praise for its eloquent and lyrical style as well as subtle and intricate tone.
Single tickets for Dialogues des Carmélites are $12 - $325 (includes applicable taxes). Tickets are available online atcoc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, located at 145 Queen St. W., Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.