This past Friday evening, November 18, I went to Oberlin College to attend their Fall opera production, Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. The performance was amazingly fine. It was easy to forget that this was a student production; the musical and stage values were higher than many so-called professional opera performances that I have seen. What made this even more astonishing was that it was performed in French, with supertitles. (This was, in fact, a rather odd choice, since Poulenc himself authorized an English language singing translation and urged that it be sung in the language of the audience. But the supertitles helped with this, one of the most wordy and philosophical of operas.)
The Oberlin production was double-cast. On Friday evening we heard Megan Hart as Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ. She was outstanding, as were all the rest. There were no duds in the cast, although the young man who played the Father Confessor seemed less experienced than the others. The orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Ari Pelto (an Oberlin alum) seemed secure. A few times they covered the singers, but the balance was good for the most part.
As usual, the high point of this production of Dialogues for me was the very end, when the Carmelite nuns sing the “Salve Regina” as they climb the steps to the guillotine. The hymn is reduced one by one as the nuns meet the executioner, until Sister Blanche returns and is the final martyr.