‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ soars at Pitt Street Uniting Church

‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ soars at Pitt Street Uniting Church
Image: Image: Rob Stoddart

A thrilling production by a new opera company called Gente, gente! (meaning “People, people!” or “Hey, everyone!” – a quote from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro) is playing at a most unusual venue – the Neo-Classical Pitt Street Uniting Church built in 1841-1846.

This is a perfect setting for Francis Poulenc’s Neo-Romantic three-act opera written in 1957 about an order of nuns, called the Martyrs of Compiegne, who chose to go to their deaths rather than surrender to the demands of the bloody French revolutionaries.

Gente, gente! is a grassroots, not-for-profit opera company which presents less commonly performed works “that can make a powerful, relevant impact in our world” and is committed to involve women in “every aspect of production”.

Directed by Bec Moret, Dialogues des Carmélites provides the opportunity to showcase many young professional singers who are supported by a 14-piece orchestra conducted by Joanna Drimatis, who conjured up the many subtleties and pathos of Poulenc’s work through her baton.

Unfortunately, on opening night the viola was sick and the English subtitles weren’t working, but no doubt the former will recover and return to the orchestra and the surtitles will be fixed for subsequent performances.

The acoustics of the Uniting Church allow operatic voices to soar, and while the sightlines are sometimes impeded from the pews, Moret used the upper levels of this gorgeous interior as the setting for numerous scenes of Poulenc’s haunting opera.

Heaters around the church made it a cosy experience for the 75 or so who filled the lower pews on a chilly mid-winter Sydney opening night.

While the entire cast was uniformly excellent, soprano Sarah Cherlin was particularly impressive in her role of Blanche de la Force, the young aristocrat who told her father and brother she was joining the order of the Carmelite nuns, and mezzo Joanna Dionis Ross was moving as the dying Prioress of the Carmelite convent.

Moret writes, “The women of Dialogues des Carmélites are expelled from a life of familiarity, security, and predictability, safely locked away from an uncomfortable world, and dragged into a new world hostile to their very existence, which holds them personally accountable for ancient grievances and systemic crimes in which they had no part. But they are remembered centuries later because they refused to give in to the disease of fear”.

So, if you can brave the icy winds of Sydney’s inclement weather you will be richly rewarded by this wonderful production.

Gente, gente! presents: Dialogues des Carmélite
21-29 June, Pitt Street Uniting Church

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