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Fear, faith in war-torn France are timely topics of 'Dialogues'

7:53:00 AM CDT - Thursday, March 01, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

With a cast of 40, including a special guest faculty member, a full symphony orchestra and a large technical crew, "Les Dialogues des Carmelites" (Dialogues of the Carmelites) will fill Miller Concert Hall with tragedy and grace from March 1-4.

Students rehearsing 'Les Dialogues des Carmelites

Photo by David Dinell
Students rehearse a scene for "Les Dialogues des Carmelites," which will run March 1-4 at WSU.

Frances Poulenc's tragic opera, produced as part of WSU's Opera & Musical Theatre Series, is a fictionalized version of the true events surrounding the beheadings of 16 Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution.

"It's a difficult work to get into because it's not like many operas where there are these wonderful arias, sort of set pieces," said director Marie King. "This really is a conversation, and the topics are faith, fear — it's deep stuff — belief in God, the tearing down of religious institutions. It's profound."

For those involved, King said, the fun part of the journey lies in uncovering the mystery that Poulenc has imbedded in the music. All of the singing will be in French with English supertitles.

The back story is the factual one of the Carmelite nuns who defied authority and angry mobs during the revolution's reign of terror against organized religion, meeting secretly to pray for their country and keeping their faith order alive despite the threat of their own deaths.

Director taking notes

Photo by David Dinell
Director Marie King takes notes during a rehearsal of "Les Dialogues des Carmelites."

Poulenc's opera introduces a fictional character in noblewoman Blanche de la Force, who seeks refuge in the Carmelite convent as shelter from her fear of life surrounded by violent death. It is her tale of moving from cowardice to courage to grace that carries this story.

"It's one of the most fascinating operas of the 20th century, and of those it's probably one of the most frequently performed," said King. And, although the opera is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and the nuns of the story were beatified by the church 100 years ago, King said that the score still resonates with its discussions of war and faith.

King's notes for the program tell of Poulenc's inspiration for the opera:

"After the horrors of World War II, and the death of his lover, Poulenc was moved to explore the nature of fear, of courage, and the mystery of faith. … The true subject is not that of fear, but the transference of grace. Fifty years after its premiere, (it) continues to inspire reverence and awe in the face of that most compelling mystery, death."

The lead roles are double cast, with Lauren Brown and Natalia Olinetchouk alternating as Blanche de la Force; Allison Kindscher and Amanda Brown sharing the role of Sister Constance; Amy Cain and Susan Packard playing Mme. Lidoine; and senior Jennifer Weiman and Rebecca Carr sharing Mother Marie of the Incarnation. In a special guest appearance, professor Pina Mozzani will alternate with Dixie Roberts to portray Mme. de Croissy; Todd Walters and Brian Armbrust alternate as Chevalier de la Force. Jacob Ray-Alan plays the chaplain and William Browning plays Marquis de la Force.

Also participating are Mark Laycock, director of orchestras, and chorale director Robert Glasmann; assistant director senior Sarah Fraser; set design by theater major Andrew Brooks; costumes by recent graduate Katie Chihaby, and lights by theater major Eric Walker. French diction coaching is by associate professor of voice Deborah Baxter.

The opera is rated G, but King noted that young children might not grasp the issues involved.

WSU Opera & Musical Theatre will present "Les Dialogues des Carmelites" in French with English titles at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 1-3; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 4, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 with discounts available. For more information, call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.



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