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Poulenc: Les Dialogues des Carmelites

5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Composer: Francis Poulenc
  • Audio CD (21 Nov. 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Virgin Classics
  • ASIN: B000002SRN
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,850 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Format: Audio CD
I've just listened to this and wanted to recommend it to Amazon readers, only to find that this is selling for a ridiculously high price from a third party vendor. I guess that means that Virgin have deleted it, which I suppose is not unsurprising for a label normally associated with hippy pop stuff.

An opera about nuns willing to die for their faith even when they have a chance to save themselves may not resonate very much with modern Western secular society. Especially when one of the senior nuns (Mother Marie) encourages the others to martyr themselves then leaves them to it. But if the music's good enough you can forgive the story, and this is a really haunting piece. Poulenc's style is unique and there are no obvious comparisons. If anything some of the music predicts Messiaen - I'm thinking of certain woodwind passages - though fear not, there's no birdsong. Perhaps Poulenc's understatement resembles Pelleas though this opera is less dreamy and the vocal lines are rather more "tuneful". The most notable feature is Poulenc's use of unusual chords and harmonies. Some of these are so scrumptiously delicious that I am sure the nanny state health freaks will try to get them banned!

The ending is particularly moving, as the voices gradually decrease when the nuns are guillotined (you hear the falling of the blade).

Excellent performance, notably Catherine Dubosc as Blanche and also fine playing from the Lyon Opera orchestra under Kent Nagano. It's all very idiomatic and sounds just right. Superb recording too, spacious and natural.

Let's hope that this becomes more readily available because excellent though it is, 80 quid is a rip-off.
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Format: Audio CD
Poulenc is one of the most inspiring french composers of his time. This recording of his most well known opera Les Dialogues of the Carmelites is truly a must have! I recomend it to anyone with an interest in opera. The piece itself is a masterpiece, gripping story about the harrowing torture of the Carmelites, a group of nuns. This is a heart rendering piece of music. This cd excells itself in the portrayal of the charachers by the principals and the orchestra and excellent direction. Especially listen to the Heart-breaking Salve Regina.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f96545c) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f993ea0) out of 5 stars Moving performance 29 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
David Patrick Stearns's comment that this recording has a more 'international' flavour than the original one is rather odd, considering that the three performers he singles out - Dubosc, Yakar, and van Dam, are all Francophone singers.
This is a fine performance, well-paced and in excellent sound (with the exception of the Old Prioress's death scene, where there are traces of artificial reverberation around Gorr's voice from time to time). The cast all offer committed performances, headed by Dubosc's complex, fragile Blanche, not afraid to be harsh in her first scene with Soeur Constance, and good at conveying the intensity of her fear during her final, desperate scene with Mère Marie. Some of the voices are in something less than perfect shape - Rita Gorr has a few squawky moments, but this is quite in keeping with the character of a dying old woman, and she remains authoritative. Rachel Yakar's Mme. Lidoine is less successful - the voice could do with a bit more weight, and the surprise high notes with which Poulenc tends to break up the vocal line from time to time emerge as yelps. Martine Dupuy successfully brings out Marie's fanaticism.
This is a fine recording which cannot fail to move.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x901ac978) out of 5 stars Generally delightful...until the end. 22 Aug. 2005
By M. Wakefield - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Honestly, the recording merits somewhere between a 3+ and a four (with no few moments of five-like qualities) in my estimation. The singing on the whole is delightful, with some exceptions (most notably the strained top of both mezzos and Mme Lidoine--which could work in the case of the first prioress, but is for both women at times just unforgivably painful in otherwise beautiful moments of the work. Lidoine does, in the words of another viewer, "yelp" at times. Hence, the three-rating.). That said, much of the singing is beautiful, and
Nagano's conducting is intelligent and well balanced (with one notable exception--more forthcoming). Like other reviewers, I, too, performed in this opera and found the recording an accessible one, one that transported me with little difficulty to the heart of the drama. (Albeit, likely aided by my memories of performing.)

My major gripe with this recording--and it is major for me, though it may not be for others--is the ending Prelude and Salve Regina. The bass ostinato is just altogether too light--it's easily buried by the other orchestration and by the singers. Consequently, both pieces simply lacked the gritty drive that they require. There's such a tension in the final pieces between the ethereal, angelic quality of the Salve Regina text sung by the nuns and the driving, harsh, almost fatalistic push of the bass line. It just simply isn't in this recording. For me, a strong bass there is essential. The mere sound of an e-g-e bass ostinato is generally enough to make my hair stand on end with all the sound engenders from this opera; on this recording, when the ostinato is in the proper and (for me) original context, the sound is altogether too delicate. Nagano carries me easily to the climax of the opera--and then disappoints.

While others may consider the point trivial, I just cannot give the otherwise fine recording five stars. The opera drives so conclusively to that ultimate scene...and then paints only one side of the drama. (Yes, the singing is beautiful. Yes, the nuns do sound like angels. I don't think, however, that angelic beauty is the only thing Poulenc was going for in the scene, however, and this recording doesn't catch the full picture.)
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fce0d14) out of 5 stars Beautiful! 7 Sept. 2004
By Michael - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I first heard DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES on a Metropolitan Opera broadcast. Having already been a Poulenc fan, I naturally fell in love with the opera's lovely musical idiom - French DOUCEUR blended with Stravinskian bite and religious or ecclesiastical elements - before I knew the characters or the details of the plot. While the opera does drag in spots, the electrifying and stoic final scene - in which the laicized nuns are led to the guillotine - more than compensates. DIALOGUES is a refreshing opera, partly because of its story. We can see the "religious intolerance" theme play itself out countless times in plays, movies, etc. It is interesting once in a while to find a story about the opposite evil - secular intolerance towards religion. The DIALOGUES libretto, adapted from a play by French Catholic author Georges Bernanos, imbues a true historical event with contemporary resonance (think of such 20th-century atheistic regimes as Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia) in a way that reminds me of Miller's THE CRUCIBLE.

There are only two major recordings of this opera: the 1957 version with the original Paris cast, (led by Denise Duval and Regine Crespin), and the present one. I haven't heard the earlier recording, but after hearing the more recent one I would say that we will not be in need of a new version for some time. Kent Nagano makes this music sound positively luminous. Every orchestral color in Poulenc's delicate palette, every note in his harmonically rich, organ-like textures can be clearly heard. (The misty, magical orchestral interludes are truly things to savor in this performance.) Each member of the all-Francophone cast is excellent, right down to the singer portraying the jailer. As the heroine, Blanche, Catherine Dubosc displays a consistently attractive, innocent tone, with a pallor that is appropriate for this character. Rachel Yakar as Madame Lidoine and Martine Dupuy as Mere Marie give strong, declamatory performances - though both singers' high notes sound forced or strained. Michel Senechal has a lovely, nasal tenor voice for the role of the chaplain. One complaint regarding the acoustic: occasionally, voices sound pushed behind the orchestra, rendering them hardly audible.

If you would like to experience an accessible, approachable 20th-century opera, look no further than Poulenc's DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90405a38) out of 5 stars INDEED A SPECIAL RECORDING 20 Jan. 2005
By David Greco - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I have owned this recording for 3 years and bought it while I was performing the opera itself. This recording has so many redeeming features not least because of the divine singing of Blanche' and Constance...van Dam as the father is great in the opening scene too.

This disk has inspired me so much and it is always a treat for me when I have gone without listening to it for a while to pop it on and be swooned away by Poulenc in top form, performed by such great singers and orchestra. A real treat for me! 5 STARS
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f997378) out of 5 stars Comparison of recent Kurt Nagano and original cast Derveaux "Carmelites" 13 April 2012
By jt52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I have been listening to two recordings of Francis Poulenc's 1957 opera "Dialogues f the Carmelites", the 1992 Kent Nagano-led version issued on Virgin and what amounts to an original cast recording from 1958 with Denise Duval and conducted by Pierre Derveaux, a group of performers who largely premiered the opera. Though the two groups of performers take contrasting approaches, the bottom line is that both are very good and will draw you in.

The Derveaux EMI recording is quicker, lighter and very musical. It runs about 10 minutes less than the Nagano, which is indicative of the faster tempi Derveaux takes. The singers are more consistent than in the Nagano but I actually don't think quite as good. Denise Duval is the soprano Poulenc for whom wrote the "Dialogues", as well as many of his later vocal works such as his last opera, the 1959 monodrama "The Human Voice", so we can assume she interprets the part the way Poulenc wished. Star soprano Regine Crespin takes the role of the new Prioress and does good work. Though the sound doesn't equal the Nagano version, it is very good for its period; its age should not dissuade you from listening to the set. Listeners who think the Nagano version drags and concentrates on the details might prefer this set, which flows with deft pacing.

The Nagano Virgin recording is slower, more sensuous, is in very good sound, with maybe the leading attraction being a series of stunning solo performances. Catherine Dubosc, as the lead, Blanche, is I think better than Denise Duval, with a beautiful voice and a dramatically compelling rendition of the torn central character. With male stars like Jose Van Dam (the Father) and Francois Le Roux (the Jailer) and female stars like Rachel Yakar (repeating Crespin's role as the new Prioress), who are all excellent, maybe the best supporting singer is Blanche's brother, Jena-Luc Viala, who shines, especally in the emotional and affecting farewell scene at the end of Act II, where he and Blanche say good bye to each other forever in the cloister. Rita Gorr, who appears in both the Derveaux and Nagano recordings (in different parts) is affecting and musically strong but not quite in technical control at all times. While not quite as musical as the Devreaux, Nagano's cool, dispassionate style - which some find a negative in his Gustav Mahler recordings - is well-suited for the "Dialogues." The sound is very good although there is some harshness in the upper registers.

The "Dialogues of the Carmelites" is an opera that just sucks me in. The sensuous music combines with the theme of personal renunciation and Catholic Grace colliding with the senseless violence of the French Revolution's Terror, in which a radical political agenda seems almost inevitably to fall from utopianism to demented violence, to make a great opera. Based on a 1949 screenplay by right-wing French writer George Bernanos, "Dialogues" was likely making a controversial political statement in the 1950s, a time when radical leftism was de rigeur in French intellectual circles, by taking the viewpoint of the Carmelites. That political message has essentially disappeared today with widespread consensus on the often tragic consequences of leftist revolutions. "Dialogues" also was created for an audience with clear memories of the divisive government-sponsored anticlericalism that France experienced in the first decades of the 20th-century. Combine that with Poulenc's continued use of clear tonality and clear, memorable melodic material in a context where avant-garde composers - in one sense, the musical equivalent to the Jacobins - had lain down the gauntlet and moved to a dissonant, atonal systematization, "Dialogues" comes across as a self-consciously conservative statement.

Social context aside, if I was to name one truly great opera from after 1945, "Dialogues" would be the first to come to mind. Any opera fans out there unfamiliar with this opera should listen to it. I'm not saying it's on the level of "Don Giovanni," but it is on the level below that, with operas like "La traviata" or "Barber of Seville," to name a couple. It is moving, beautiful, and thought-provoking. Both recordings I listened to are excellent and vividly bring to life the complex themes and rich music of the "Dialogues."
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