This weekend at the Opera House the very first Hungarian première of Francis Poulenc’s intense opera “Dialogues des Carmélites” brings its dark and brutal history to the stage. An absolute polar opposite to this savage work is the beautifully crafted Christmas ballet “The Nutcracker”.
The central protagonist in Poulenc’s opera, Blanche de la Force, is performed by the outstanding soprano Gabriella Létay Kiss along with a strong supporting cast. Based on a true account of the martyrs of Compiègne and set during the French Revolution in a sinister Paris circa 1794, it culminates in 16 Carmélite nuns facing the guillotine under a harsh dictatorship.
Poulenc’s opera blends the spiritual with real horror and is certainly not a production for an evening of winter escapism. Directed by Ferenc Anger with set designs by Éva Szendrényi, expect to be transported to the darkest side of human nature with this violent yet incredibly powerful production.
The opera comes with a 16-years age guideline and in this instance it should be adhered to. The number of children attending 14- or 16-rated operas may be a small percentage of the audience, but the sight of children as young as 4 years old raises several points. Firstly, is it fair on other theatre-goers when children inevitably become restless during the performance? The most salient point of all is that the age recommendation is there for good reason; some scenes may be too violent and shocking for adults to sit through, let alone children.
Theatre by its nature has much more dramatic impact and realism than cinema or television violence. Since the finale of Poulenc’s opera is one of the most shocking in the operatic repertoire, this is definitely one to observe the age recommendation. Take the children to “The Nutcracker” instead.
“The Nutcracker” was a sell-out last year with its fairy-tale escapism and sensationally beautiful scenery captivating adults and children alike.
Set designer Beáta Vavrinecz has created a wonderfully mystical and three-dimensional land of snow and ice that shifts from delightful indoor Christmas scenes and into the realms of the fantastical. The adult Mária travels with her Nutcracker Prince through echoing underground caverns and into a winter wonderland of ice crystals before reaching his beautiful Snow Crystal Palace.
Tamás Solymosi and world-renowned Wayne Eagling worked jointly on the choreography to set it alight to the orchestral score of Tchaikovsky. The brilliance of the dancing itself in “The Nutcracker” never threatens to overpower the score, which is at times as fragile as the snowflakes that fall in the winter scenes.
The composer himself was initially afraid of this when he produced the orchestral score. But the music rises and falls, becoming full of exuberant energy and crescendos and then drip-dripping into ice crystal delicacy to accompany Mária’s graceful movements.
The Snow Crystal Palace is an enchanting place, a timeless kingdom constructed of ice crystals, where Mária is now princess and entertained by differently choreographed dances, all showing the dancers’ amplitude to the maximum. The grand pas de deux between Mária and her Nutcracker Prince is the true highlight; a golden and graceful love duet gliding across the stage as though it is made of ice.
You are left feeling as the young Mária awakes in her real world that if only life had remained in this land of wonder and not been some fantastical dream.
Opera House, Andrássy út 22, District VI
Tickets and information: