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Subject: Re: Dialogues des Carmélites : A Brief Observation
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 7 Nov 2017 11:05:13 -0500
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Actually, a musical clarification - there are actually two choruses in that amazing final 
scene - the nuns singing the "Salve Regina," and the mob watching the executions, who 
sing wordless sustained syllables throughout. The effect of the mob chorus is almost more 
of an orchestral one (as they are not singing true text, and we only hear the effect of 
their basic sonority), but it's a unique presence in the overall sound. They also sing one 
final "ah" during the closing music, after Blanche has been executed. 

So yes - chilling and masterful as it is the way Poulenc handles the ever-reducing nuns' 
ensemble (particularly striking how he has them singing only in unison/octaves at first, 
saving harmonizing for later), this "backup" choral sound from "la foule" is equally 
ingenious. 

Also, of course, the fact that all of the specifics are notated in the score - how the balance 
of the nuns' chorus changes each time a voice disappears, and little arrows marked in for 
wherethe sound of the guillotine should happen. ("Bruit sourd et lourd" is included as a 
footnote in the score - "a dull and heavy sound.") A lesser composer might have left all 
this up to the director. I'm glad Poulenc had specific ideas as to how exactly this should 
play out.

I know we've discussed this final scene out here before. But I'll say again, no matter how 
many wonderfully dramatic/tragic moments there are in opera that move me, there's 
something special and unique about this scene that really hits me to the core. Absolutely 
devastating. And so fucking perfectly musicalized. (Ever notice the little upward harp 
glissandos that happen after some of the guillotine strokes? Is this to denote souls 
ascending to heaven, perhaps? Or some impressionistic depiction of sprinkling of blood? I 
don't know - but it's very evocative and a little spooky.)

I do have a question for anyone who has actually done a production of Carmelites - 
anyone know why the orchestral interludes between scenes (including the one before this 
final scene) are not included in the published vocal score? It's rare for a vocal score not to 
include the complete music. Were these interludes an afterthought, perhaps? 


On Mon, 6 Nov 2017 23:12:55 -0600, Les Mitnick <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Your reaction to the finale of this masterpiece is not unlike my own.  The full chorus 
(which gradually diminishes) as the blade of the guillotine slashes through it is truly 
ghastly.  As the chorus continues to caravan on, the sound of the blade hitting its mark 
can leave one in a state of total emotional collapse.  It's a perfect illustration of the fact 
that "art can sometimes disturb and elicit feelings of anguish".  I know of no other opera 
that achieves this effect more blatantly than the finale of "Dialogues des Carmelites".  
Also the prolonged death scene of the Old Prioress (especially as portrayed by Regine 
Crespin) -- as well as the great aria/scene of Madame Lidoine (there's a spectacular 
rendition of it by Leontyne Price on her RCA Prima Donna III album).
>     Not an easy opera to countenance, but what a piece of art it is!  A total musical and 
theatrical experience.
>> On November 6, 2017 at 7:02 PM Tom Frey <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> 
>> 
>> I have never see or heard a complete Dialogues but listened to a broadcast during the 
last act. The music of the nuns being executed was so frightening I could scarcely bear it. 
I'm sure that all who post are correct. That it is a monumental work. But I am not able to 
handle it with my heart condition. I do realize that opera is loaded with violence and 
cruelty. Not everything is Barber of Seville. Even Hansel and Gretel has moment of 
mayhem.  But Poulenc is so graphic in his portrayal of decapitation. It's just too much for 
me.
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: G. Paul Padillo <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Sent: Mon, 06 Nov 2017 15:30:33 -0500 (EST)
>> Subject: Dialogues des Carmélites  :  A Brief Observation
>> 
>> I was discussing Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmélites ” earlier today and 
remarking what a 
>> remarkable history it has had since its premiere.  Each of us were all hard pressed to 
think 
>> of any opera in the 2nd half of the 20th century which had as impressive casts in its 
first 
>> year as did Poulenc’s.  1957 saw the following baker’s dozen of singers . . . 
not to mention 
>> singing in three different languages (you know what I mean!): 
>> 
>> Virginia Zeani
>> Denise Duval
>> Rita Gorr
>> Leontyne Price
>> Regine Crespin
>> Leyla Gencer
>> Patricia Neway
>> Fiorenza Cossotto
>> Dorothy Kirsten
>> Claramae Turner
>> Blanche Thebom
>> Rosemary Kuhlmann
>> Judith Raskin
>> 
>> Like the very best works of any era, the power of Poulenc’s opus carries as much 
dramatic, 
>> musical and theatrical weight now as it did when new.
>> 
>> p.
>> 
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