Friday 11 March 2011

Carmelites at the Barbican

On Wednesday we went to the final performance of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Stephen Barlow's production was quite traditional, with period costumes (designer David Farley). The action all took place on a single raised platform (which could be rotated) and which was dressed with salient details (fireplace for the Marquis's study, kitchen table for the Convent work-room). The whole was framed by an abstract design representing shattered glass and the opera opened with the mob shattering the window of a carriage. The result was a rather effective use of the limited stage and meant that there were not awkward pauses between scenes.

We were seeing the 2nd performance by the 2nd cast, though 2nd cast certainly does not imply 2nd class, quite the opposite. Natalya Romaniw (singing Blanche) represented Wales at last year's Cardiff Singer of the World and Gary Griffiths (singing the Marquis) won the Guildhall School Gold Medal in 2009.

Romaniw was perhaps a little too self-possessed for Blanche in the early stages of the opera, you felt that she was stronger than that. But Romaniw grew into the role and gave a strong and affecting performance. She was ably supported by Sophie Junker's perfectly contrasting Constance.

Older roles are always tricky in student performances but here two of the older characters provided some of the most remarkable performances of the evening. Catia Moreso was mesmerising as the old Prioress, dramatically intense in her death scene. And Amy J Payne gave a truly remarkable performance as Mere Marie. Payne conveyed a strength and depth of experience in her performance which is rare, she gave Mere Marie a real feeling of solidity.

Sky Ingram's new Prioress didn't quite manage the simple goodness that this character required. Ingram's performance was intelligent and well crafted, but a little too artful perhaps and she didn't seem quite comfortable with the tessitura.

The men don't really get to display themselves in this opera. Curievici was wonderfully intense was Le Chevalier and Griffiths made the Marquis as dignified and as pompous as he could without resorting to caricature. Matthew Stiff gave a moving performance as the nun's chaplain.

For the final scene we had the mob and the guillotine at the back of the stage, with the nuns ranged along the front in a line. As each one died, a light came on transforming her into radiance. A brilliant idea which kept the scene from being too fussy.

Clive Timms conducted with a strong feeling for Poulenc's dramaturgy but also with a sympathetic ear on his young charges.

The result was an impressive achievement which in many parts reached levels achieved in professional houses.


  1. Anonymous1:33 am

    Lovely critique, very pondered and accurate.
    Just a quick note, Alberto Sousa sang the Chaplain, not Matthew Stiff, who sang the Doctor and the Jailer.

  2. Many thanks for your lovely words. I hope you don't mind if I publish the review on my website?

  3. Amy
    Please feel free to use the review on your website.


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