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‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’ gets Asian premiere in Seoul

The Korea National Opera Company is to perform opera “Les Dialogues des Carmelites” by 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc in Seoul in May, the first performance of the opera in Asia.

First premiered in Paris and Milan in 1957, the opera is based on historical events which took place at a monastery of Carmelite nuns in Compiegne during the French Revolution.

“This piece takes us to the ultimate level where French words, sounds and music are interactively harmonized. We could not help but pick this masterpiece,” KNOC artistic director Lee So-young told reporters in Seoul.
Stanislas Nordey, director of “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” speaks during a press conference in Seoul as Korea National Opera Company artistic director Lee So-young listens (right). (KNOC)
Stanislas Nordey, director of “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” speaks during a press conference in Seoul as Korea National Opera Company artistic director Lee So-young listens (right). (KNOC)

“We were able to bring over the best team from France to Seoul and they will deliver the highest value by working with the best Korean team,” she said.

The opera is sponsored by the French Cultural Center in Seoul. The institute’s head said she has been impressed by the advancement of Korean opera in the past few years.

“In the past several years, Korea’s opera scene has been making extraordinary growth. Korean opera singers are getting international spotlight a lot. I was also impressed by the Korea National Opera taking on the challenges not only for big pieces but less-popular works,” said Pascal Juste, director of the French Cultural Center.

Stanislas Nordey, director of the French opera, said the upcoming work will show how a human soul can possess contradicting characteristics.

“Through several characters including nun Blanche, you will see a panorama of the human soul,” said Nordey, who won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards for directing Debussy opera “Pelleas et Melisande” in 2008.

The opera in three acts deals with serious themes such as religion, fear and death. Those elements are expressed by Poulenc’s music, which depicts the executions of 14 nuns.

Soprano Annick Massis, who will take the lead role of Blanche, said she will try to introduce the opera to the Korean audience by combining the simple music with the character’s strong and tragic changes of emotion.

“Blanche’s emotion in religious calling changes into fear, which is reinforced by her own consciousness of fear. She finally feels free in her soul after she experiences every stage of fear and faces death,” said Massis, the winner of the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

The story unfolds as Blanche decides to retreat from the world and enter a Carmelite convent. But as soon as she enters it, she witnesses even the Mother Superior trembling before her death.

The Korean Symphony Orchestra will perform Poulenc’s music with conductor Daniel Kawka, who visited Seoul three years ago to perform with Korea’s young artists with a French orchestra.

“Even though I had only two rehearsals with the Korean Symphony Orchestra, I was quite surprised by the orchestra’s deep understanding of the Poulenc’s piece,” Kawka said.

“The music will focus on expressing pain and desperate hope for a miracle of nuns who face death in the last scene, beautifully and attractively,” he said.

KNOC’s opera “Dialogues of the Carmelites” will take place at the Seoul Arts Center from May 5-8. Tickets range from 10,000 won to 150,000 won. For details, call (02) 586-5282.

By Kim Yoon-mi (
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Korea Herald daum