Composer: Francis Poulenc
Venue: Royal Opera House, London
Date: June 2014
There are very few operas for adults and this, along with Janacek’s Makropulos Case and maybe a dozen others, is one of them. By ‘opera for adults’, I mean that the libretto is actually meaningful and worth pondering in its own right, quite aside from the music and dramaturgy. Carmelites is also probably the most Catholic of all operas and Poulenc wrote both the libretto (with Emmet Lavery) as well as the score between 1953 and 1956 after he had recommitted himself to Roman Catholicism. This even though at the time he had a young man, Lucien Roubert, as his lover. Poulenc was admitted to a psychiatric clinic for a while in 1954, many sources attributing this to conflicts over his faith and his feelings for Lucien. By a strange coincidence, Roubert was dying at the same time as Poulenc was composing the Carmelites – a work with tensions concerning death and martyrdom for one’s faith at its core.
This acclaimed production by Robert Carsen was already well-travelled before its long-awaited arrival at the Royal Opera House this summer; one can see how Carsen’s spare, even spartan style suits the work so well and why it has become so popular amongst critics and opera lovers alike.