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Author: Jill Kimball

Eklund Opera stages “Dialogues of the Carmelites”

CU-Boulder’s production marries beautiful music and timeless themes.

This March, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Eklund Opera program stages Francis Poulenc’s moving, intimate “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” based on the true story of Catholic nuns who were persecuted during the French Revolution.

Amid music that Eklund Opera Director Leigh Holman calls “absolutely gorgeous” is the story of a young woman named Blanche, who lives in the dangerous days of 1790s France and grapples with her own fear. To escape the Reign of Terror, she joins a Carmelite convent. But she soon finds there’s no escape from the outside world when revolutionaries give the nuns an ultimatum: leave the Church or face the guillotine.

Rather than a sweeping historical epic, Holman says, “Dialogues” is an intimate portrait of a few fascinating characters who struggle with trepidation, battle prejudice and come to terms with death.

“Instead of watching a blockbuster, you’re getting the indie movie,” Holman says. “You really get to see the characters close up.”

Poulenc wrote “Dialogues of the Carmelites” in the 1950s, reflecting not only on the French Revolution but also on the dark days of the World War II-era Nazi occupation in France. Audience members will be able to see—and hear—the parallels between two of the most difficult periods in the history of Poulenc’s homeland.

“France, as we have seen recently, is no stranger to terrorism,” says Music Director Nicholas Carthy. “The French government didn’t make much of a struggle against the Nazis, and it’s something that even to this day is the cause of great splits in villages and towns there.

“Poulenc might have seemed indifferent about the war, but it affected him very deeply,” Carthy continues. “He took his own experience of living in occupied France, watching the shadows of World War II spread over Europe, and transported it to a different time.”

Sarah Barber, a professional singer performing alongside CU-Boulder voice students in the production, says the opera is unique for its raw take on timeless topics such as death, religious persecution and class struggle. Since earning her master’s degree in voice from CU-Boulder in 2001, the mezzo-soprano has enjoyed a thriving career as a singer and teacher; she’ll be on stage as a principal artist at the legendary Central City Opera this summer.

“The music and story are both so enveloping,” Barber says. “And the title, ‘Dialogues,’ is quite telling, because the story truly is about the individual conversations and small moments between characters.”

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