Poulenc: Dialogues Des Carmelites (Anja Silja/ Barbara Dever/ Christopher Robertson/ Dagmar Schellenberger/ Laura Aikin/ Riccardo Muti) (Arthaus Dvd: 107315)
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When Canadian opera director Robert Carsen produced his intense and cogent staging of Francis Poulenc's compelling opera Les Dialogues des Carmelites at the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam in 2001, it impressed audiences and critics alike, and also gained the interest of Riccardo Muti, then musical director of La Scala in Milan. He arranged for the production to be staged by the famous Milanese opera company. Muti himself conducted Orchestra and Chorus of the Scala and a superb, handpicked cast of singers. German soprano Dagmar Schellenberger, who received much critical acclaim for this, her debut at La Scala, takes the role of the young aristocrat Blanche who, during the French Revolution, seeks salvation from her terror in a convent. The action takes place in Paris and Compiegne between 1789 and 1794 and highlights the impacts of the Revolution and later Robespierre's Reign of Terror on religious institutions. Following a decree dissolving all the country's religious houses, the Carmelite nuns take a vow of martyrdom and sing their way to the scaffold. The last to die is Blanche, together with Soeur Constance, her close friend in the convent, sung by the American soprano Laura Aikin. American mezzo Barbara Dever gave her debut at La Scala in this production in the role of the assistant prioress Mother Marie. The production was particularly notable for the participation of Anja Silja as Madame de Croissy, and this recording allows us to experience one of the greatest singing actresses of our times.