Dialogues des Carmelites. Bayerische Staatsoper München 2010. Production: Tcherniakov, Conductor: Nagano. Cast: Susan Gritton (Blanche), Soile Isokoski (Lidonie), Sylvie Brunet (Croissy), Susanne Resmark (Marie), Helene Guilmette (Constance).
In a way, you could argue that Russian director Dmitri Tcherniako rewrites Poulenc´s opera. Because he strips it of all religious and historical aspects, which, of course, to Poulenc were everything.
But the result is riveting ending up with one of the finest operatic DVDs availabe, a genuine contemporary thriller:
A community of paranoid women living in a glass-walled house suspended on stage away from the "outside". They are neurotic, living in yesterdays world, utterly rejecting the outside, not wanting the world of today to enter and thus chose isolation. Blanche, the innocent girl, uncertain about her role in the world, choses to join them. Did anyone say religious sect?
Finally, the women try to commit collective suicide, letting gas fill the house surrounded by police asking them to surrinder. Blanche breaks into the house and rescues the women one after one, dragging them out only to die herself when the gas inside the house explosed.
It is a claustrophobic and scary production. And within its own logic, it works. And, how Tcherniakov inspires them to moving and committed acting is simply stunning: Susanne Resmarks strong Mere Marie, who convinces the others to commit suicide, but escapes herself. Soile Isokoski, with the gorgeous, floating voice, chainsmoking, hardly able to hide her anxiety. Helene Guilmette´s scarily unreflective Constance, entirely wrapped up in the mass psychosis and her determination to die. Susan Gritton is constantly in doubt, oscillating between her loneliness in the real world and her wish to belong somewhere, be part of a community, at no matter the cost.
Rare, but nice to have a Madame Croissy (Sylvie Brunet) in her vocal prime, in what is often the territory of the likes of Anja Silja.
Kent Nagano shows us both the transparency and roughness of Poulenc, the sort of repertoire that suits him well.
For a scary, committed and moving performance, this is the DVD to own.
However, what Tcherniakov is exploring is not what Poulenc intended and I suspect this may weigh in for some people. In that case Robert Carsen´s rather superb La Scala production is the way to go.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Susan Gritton: 4
Soile Isokoski: 5
Sylvie Brunet: 4-5
Helene Guilmette: 4
Susanne Resmark: 5
Kent Nagano: 4
Dmitri Tcherniakov: 5
Overall impression: 5