Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at UCLA

Francis Poulenc’s haunting opera, Dialogue des Carmélites, has the French Revolution’s progressive social program going badly astray against religious orthodoxy when a Carmelite nunnery refuses to vacate, setting up a fatal test of wills amongst varied personalities. Its drama wears the habit of monastic fealty in emphatically tonal music of astringent solemnity, minor third motifs, and no showy pyrotechnics but plenty of vocal challenges. Requiring audience concentration, Carmélites’ performance history remains spotty but it retains passionate adherents amongst opera cognoscenti in major music capitols.

In Opera UCLA’s production at Schoenberg Hall, seen February 24, designer Cameron Mock’s stark scenes and lighting had three oversized abstract crosses leaning on their sides, suggesting the martyrdom to come. Peter Kazaras’s austere staging, Neal Stulberg’s well-coached orchestra, and Caitlin Talmage’s mixed-periods costumes inspired solid performances from the student cast. Most affecting scene: the guillotining, one by one, of the martyred nuns, each falling into the shadows with the swishing sound of the blade.

Photo: UCLA student cast of Dialogue des Carmélites, photo by Henry Lim
Review courtesy of L.A. Opus
Rodney Punt may be contacted at