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Poulenc – Les dialogues des Carmelites


Marquis de la Force – Andrew Thompson

Blanche de la Force – Charmian Bedford

Chevalier de la Force – Sam Boden

Prioress Mme de Croissey – Marjorie Ouvry

Mother Marie – Aurore Lacabe

Prioress Mme Lidoine – Grace Nyandoro

Sister Constance – Stefanie Read

Conductor – Gregory Rose

Director – Bill Bankes Jones

Designer – Ellan Parry



Trinity College of Music at Blackheath Halls 22 June 2007

Poulenc's Carmelites is not performed too often these days, but music colleges are drawn to it by the large number of female voices required to cast it. Trinity College of Music (at Greenwich since 2001) showed particular enterprise in creating a church-like setting, with rows of pews for the audience and a centre space in the hall, the orchestra being seated at the far end.


The action took place in front of the pews, without scenery, and was therefore closer to the audience – the effect being more immediate. The nuns wore authentic Carmelite habits, whilst all the lay people were grotesques, presumably to stress the gap between spiritual and temporal; only the chaplain appeared in normal dress.


The drama proceeded swiftly in short scenes, assisted by Poulenc's spare and subdued accompaniment, as if he had subjugated his own personality in the same way that the nuns obey the rules of their order. The climax was truly terrifying – the nuns, deprived of their religious clothing, huddled together in the Conciergerie, only the dim candle light protected them from the encroaching shadows, the ominous outline of the guillotine visible in the darkness.


As the nuns climbed the steps at the place of execution that wonderful chant of Salve Regina gradually diminished into the terrible final silence. An unforgettable moment in a remarkably moving performance, and a truly inspired production which will not be equalled in a hurry, let alone surpassed.


All the participants were deserving of great praise for their singing and acting but two were outstanding: Charmian Bedford took the crucial role of Blanche and Aurore Lecabe was an ideal Mere Marie, reminding one of the irony by which this dedicated Sister did not achieve the martyrs' crown. As the Chaplain says, “God decides who will live and who will die.”


A bonus point to the College for performing the work in French and with impeccable pronunciation.


Stuart Jenkins


See production photos at http://www.tcm.ac.uk/RVE1dbeab9372d74af180eacbf24d0db5d5,,.aspx