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Subject: Re: Dialogues des Carmélites : A Brief Observation
From: Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alain Letort <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 7 Nov 2017 01:03:47 -0500
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Dear Listers,

I totally agree with Paul Padillo’s and Les Mitnick’s keen observations on “Dialogue des 
Carmélites.”  Yes, it is indeed a masterpiece, and yes, the score’s beauty is unquestionable.

I was privileged to super in a wonderful production of “Dialogues” at the now-defunct and 
much-lamented Summer Opera Theatre of Washington, which operated out of the Catholic 
University of America’s Hartke Theatre in Northeast Washington, D.C.  This would have been 
1993 or 1994, perhaps.

Each of the rehearsals and performances left me in such emotional turmoil that I basically 
couldn’t sleep that night.  I was kept pretty busy during most of the performance, but the 
part I remember most occurred during the execution scene where, dangling from a rail in 
the flies but in full view of the audience, dressed as a “sans-culotte” and fearfully made up, 
myself and a lady super, at each fall of the (unseen) blade, poured buckets of fake blood 
onto the top of a huge, curved white sheet that sloped downward to the stage floor, so that 
the blood “trickled” slowly down the sheet which by the end was spattered in “blood.”  I am 
told that seen from the audience this looked very ghastly indeed.  I remember the audience 
literally *gasping* each time we did this, and some ladies in the audience actually 
screamed.  At the end of the performance I was always in tears and literally shaking.

For some reason the SOTC had not obtained from Poulenc’s estate the rights to perform the 
opera with a full orchestra (I think the estate was asking too much money), so instead we 
had, if I recall correctly, two pianos in the pit playing the score, and that actually added to 
the spookiness and eeriness of the music.

The atmosphere was so somber backstage that I took to leaving at various points in the 
backstage area fake notes from the “Scarlet Pimpernel” on the theme of “Save the nuns!” 
and invoking God’s wrath on the revolutionists, and scattering little fleurs-de-lys all over the 
place.  Everyone thought this was very funny.

About 12 years later, I saw “Dialogues” at the Met, this time from the audience, and was 
pretty much turned inside out by the whole thing.  The libretto by Georges Bernanos, which 
closely hews to his stage play, is every bit as affecting as Poulenc’s music, and together 
they really do pack a wallop. 

Cheers and all the best,

Alain

Alain Letort
Washington, D.C.
Des Ungeheuers Höhle

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