This is the first time Lyric has presented Francis Poulenc's 20th-century classic (which had its world premiere 50 years ago last month) — and the spare production by Robert Carsen, borrowed from the Netherlands Opera and restaged in Chicago by Didier Kerstin, carries "overwhelming emotional force," according to the Chicago Tribune's John von Rhein.
Isabel Bayrakdarian heads the cast as Blanche de la Force, a pathologically fearful young aristocrat who joins a Carmelite convent just before the French Revolution — and the ensuing Reign of Terror, which saw the entire community condemned to the guillotine. (The opera is based on actual events.) Anna Christy plays Blanche's fellow novice, the tirelessly cheerful Sister Constance. Veteran English mezzo Felicity Palmer gives a "mesmerizing portrayal" (Tribune) of Madame de Croissy, the Old Prioress, who suffers an agonizing death; Patricia Racette sings Madame Lidoine, the New Prioress, who leads her charges through their final tumultuous days. Mezzo Jane Irwin (replacing the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) takes the role of Mother Marie, who urges the nuns to take a vow of martyrdom yet ends up the community's sole survivor.
Lyric Opera music director Andrew Davis "found a wealth of color and nuance in Poulenc's ravishingly beautiful score" (Tribune), conducting the "increasingly superb" Lyric Opera Orchestra and "angelic" Lyric Opera Chorus (Sun-Times).
Dialogues of the Carmelites receives seven more performances from Friday (February 23) through March 17. Information and tickets are available at www.lyricopera.org.