Francis Poulenc

Dialogues des Carmélites, opera, FP 159

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    It is curious that such an essentially lyric composer as Poulenc, who had first come before the public as a teenager near the end of World War I with the smartalecky Rapsodie nègre, should have waited until near the end of World War II to compose his first opera, Les Mamelles de Tirésias. The immediate success of Tirésias, premiered June 3, 1947, coupled with its resourcefulness in adapting his gift for the arrestingly ravishing melodic oddment to a large canvas, boosted Poulenc's confidence. But as the 1950s loomed, inspiration flagged. When, in March 1953, Guido Valcarenghi, director the Italian publishing firm Ricordi, suggested a commission for a ballet to be performed at La Scala, Poulenc replied "If only you could give me an opera libretto." Valcarenghi shot back with the suggestion of Georges Bernanos' Dialogues des Carmélites, with which Poulenc was already familiar. Originally a screenplay, Dialogues' brief scenes and series of psychological moments were in accord with Poulenc's manner, while its exploration of the vicissitudes of religious devotion struck a deep resonance with the composer of the Mass in G (1937) and the Stabat Mater (1950). Days later, finding a copy of Dialogues in a Roman bookstore, Poulenc took it to a café to discover that its lines began to sing themselves to him. Ricordi's commission was accepted, and by August Poulenc was intensely involved in its composition. By March 1954 he was well into the second act when the matter of rights, combined with a disturbing homosexual relationship, threatened to derail the project, prompting a physical and mental breakdown. With the legal question resolved, Poulenc returned to the composition at the beginning of 1955, completing the vocal score by August and orchestration in June 1956. The predominantly female cast, with its anxiety-ridden protagonist -- the novice Blanche de la Force -- and their spiritual struggles as the French Revolution overtakes and propels them to a martyrs' death, are realized with startling power by Poulenc's atmospheric evocations and caressing lyricism. As the composer confessed, "Blanche was me, and still is me" -- the part was composed expressly for soprano Denise Duval. La Scala received a premiere January 26, 1957, sung in Italian, and conducted by Nino Sanzogno. Pierre Dervaux led the French premiere at the Opéra on June 21, 1957, with Duval (Blanche), Régine Crespin (Second Prioress), and Rita Gorr (Mére Marie) -- all of whom participated in a classic recording of the work the following year.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Erato 555532
    2012 Oehms Classics OC 931
    2012 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099994822
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 5627512
    2006 Ponto 1041
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 58657
    2006 Virgin Classics
    2006 Chandos 3134
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62768
    2000 INA Memoire Vive 035
    1999 EMI Classics
    1992 Virgin 59227
    1929 EMI Classics 671352A
    EMI Music Distribution 493312