Review: F. Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites by New Opera Singapore

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Bringing the operatic drama of French nuns in a time of turmoil onstage. 

In the history of operas, Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites is perhaps one of the bloodiest ones yet, with an entire nunnery sent to the guillotine and beheaded by the end of the play. Presented by New Opera Singapore, this new version of the French opera has been translated into English, and features over 20 performers throughout.

Set during the French Revolution in the late 18th Century, Dialogues of the Carmelites follows our protagonist Blanche (soprano Victoria Songwei Li), a woman finding herself increasingly at odds with the world with her father and her brother Thierry at a loss as to what to do. Her only respite for peace then, is found when she enters a nunnery. There, she quickly gains the favour of the Mother Superior (soprano Patricia Sands, who encapsulates the role’s leadership and matriarch role), incurring the jealousy of Mother Marie (mezzo-soprano Rebecca Chellapah). Things reach a tense climax as the Mother Superior chooses Blanche to be by her deathbed, while the nuns carry on into a state of uncertainty amidst the terror and death happening outside the confines of the nunnery.

In Dialogues of the Carmelites, there is poetry in the silence and drama in every breath, keeping us constantly on edge as we watch for the next slice of emotion to cut the tension onstage. Of the nuns, Capucine Daumas (soprano) as Sister Constance was a definite standout, her voice crisp, clear and enunciates well, along with soprano Jennifer Lien as Mother Lidoine, who brought an air of authority to her performance. In addition, there were moments in the opera which evoked genuine emotions, such as a heartfelt, believable dialogue between Blanche and her brother in Act 2. Alberta Wileo’s lighting design worked well in tandem with Allister Towndrow’s set, enhancing the overarching atmosphere in each scene and heightening every emotion. Stage manager Abel Koh has also done well to ensure that every scene is well executed, each scene change requiring plenty of manpower to move each set piece precisely and smoothly.

However, with ‘dialogues’ being such a key part of the performance, there were times it was difficult to hear or catch exactly what the performers were saying due to unclear enunciation, and we found ourselves often relying on the surtitles for assistance. Towards the end of the opera, it was tenor Reuben Lai as the father who showed himself to be a class above the rest, executing his lines and songs with clear articulation and really proved what a good opera singer was capable of. Dialogues of the Carmelites possesses an intriguing script and concept, and one is left moved by the darkness and traumas of the French Revolutions, and leave the theatre with an uneasy feeling in our hearts as the nuns walk into the light of martyrdom and ascend to heaven by the end of the show.

Image may contain: one or more people and people on stage

Performance attended 3/8/18

Dialogues of the Carmelites plays at Victoria Theatre from 3rd – 5th August. Tickets available from SISTIC

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