Oberlin Opera Theater Presents Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites Mar. 13-17

March 1, 2019
Erich Burnett
Oberlin Opera Theater presents Dialogues of the Carmelites
Photo credit: Artwork by Jasmine Worth

Based on a true story, the production showcases nearly 90 conservatory singers and instrumentalists.

Francis Poulenc’s moving opera Dialogues of the Carmelites is based on the true story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, 16 nuns who faced the wrath of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror for refusing to abandon their vocation.

Oberlin Opera Theater will present Poulenc’s emotionally gripping work in four performances beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 13. Additional performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 17.

All performances take place at Hall Auditorium on the campus of Oberlin College.

Though the drama at the center of the story involves the dire consequences that befell those who defied the French government of the late 18th century, director Jonathon Field espouses a more encouraging perspective on the proceedings.

“Ultimately it’s a love story,” says Field, conveying a theme shared with cast members during a visit from a Northeast Ohio priest who provided context for the opera. “It’s a love story in which one of the partners is invisible.”

Field also contrasts the women at the center of the opera with prevailing tides in American politics.

“I think the story is relevant in today’s times because it shows that one can take a stand and not necessarily need to destroy the other side in doing so,” he says. “In our current political situation, I get the idea that the objective is to win. This opera gives us a group of people whose objective was not to win, but to stay true to their ideals. And that can be two separate things.”

Sung in French with English subtitles, Poulenc’s deeply emotional libretto is supported by some of the most beautiful music he ever created. Over the course of his career, he earned a dual reputation as a sort of “cheeky brat,” as Field puts it—cultivated in part by Poulenc’s membership in the avant-garde artist collective Les Six—and also as a composer whose work was profoundly informed by his faith. Dialogues of the Carmelites falls squarely in the latter category.

Mounting Oberlin’s production is a cast numbering more than 40 conservatory singers with a full orchestra to match, under the direction of Christopher Larkin. Also taking the stage is Nicole Lévesque, a 2014 double-degree graduate of Oberlin College and Oberlin Conservatory, who will sing the role of Madame Croissy March 13 and 16.

“You’re going to hear a modern opera that is accessible,” Field says, “and you’re going to hear some beautiful religious music—some beautifully emotional music too.”

Tickets for Oberlin Opera Theater’s Dialogues of the Carmelites are $10 ($8 for students); they are available by calling 800-371-0178, online at oberlin.edu/artsguide, or at Oberlin’s Central Ticket Service, located in the Nord Performing Arts Annex, next to Hall Auditorium.

For more information about the arts at Oberlin, visit the online arts guide.

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