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March 19, 2014

Eastman Opera Theatre presents Dialogues of the Carmelites

Francis Poulenc’s opera about doomed nuns during the French Revolution is considered a 20th-century masterpiece

a faceless nun

Dialogues of the Carmelites, a melodic opera with a dramatic story inspired by real events, will receive four performances by Eastman Opera Theatre beginning Thursday, April 3.

Written by Francis Poulenc in the mid-20th century, the work addresses themes of fear, faith, sacrifice, and redemption in a community of nuns facing the uncertainties of the French Revolution. The opera has been widely praised for its lyricism and harmonies, and motifs that reflect the characters, reappear throughout the opera, and hauntingly foreshadow the tragic end.

“Dialogues of the Carmelites, though composed relatively recently, historically speaking, has earned a permanent place in the regularly performed operatic canon for many reasons,” says Stephen Carr, acting head of opera theatre at the Eastman School and director for the upcoming production. “Aside from its gripping score which, I can tell you, slowly seeps under your skin, this is truly compelling and complex theatre. Its structure is unique, with shorter scenes of sung ‘dialogue’ connected by equally eloquent musical interludes. As a director, I always hope that an audience will leave the theatre at the end of a performance somehow different from the way they entered it. Sometimes their spirits have been lifted, or they’ve experienced some kind of introspection, or insight, or newfound empathy. Dialogues will mean different things to different people, but it is an experience that no one, audience or artist, walks away from, unchanged.”

The opera is based on a memoir by one of the survivors of a group of nuns who defied anti-religious decrees during France’s “reign of terror.” Two rotating casts of singers from the Eastman School take on the lead roles in the Eastman Opera Theatre production under the musical direction of conductor Benton Hess.

Upcoming performances

Dialogues of the Carmelites will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 3, Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5; a 2 p.m. matinee is scheduled on Sunday, April 6.

The production will be staged in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. Pre-performance talks will be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, one hour before the start of the opera, in the Ray Wright Room (Room 120) at the Eastman School.

Tickets are $25 for the general public, $35 for reserved box seats (discount with University ID), and are available at the Eastman Theatre Box Office, 433 East Main St., 454-2100.

To help prepare for their roles, the singers each researched the life of the real monastic nun they will be portraying onstage. They also visited the local Discalced Carmelites of Rochester, getting a rare glimpse into the daily cloistered life of the nuns.

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