Workshop’s opera first in recital hall

By W. Thomas Evins

The NIU Opera Workshop performs its most ambitious undertaking of the semester with “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” an opera by French post-impressionist Francis Poulenc.

This production explores many new directions for the opera workshop. Past shows used the stages of University Theatre in the Stevens Building; they have never before attempted a fully staged, fully costumed production in the Music Building. “Carmelites” is quite different.

“We are trying to use our recital hall in a very special way,” said Kirk Lundbeck, who coordinates large ensembles for the music department. “We have a stage that cuts the room in two from corner to corner, with audience on both sides.” Developing the hall as a performance space frees the group from limitations of time and space imposed by using the theatre department’s facilities.

Poulenc’s opera is an artistic rendering of historical events in the aftermath of the 1794 French Revolution. The nation had, in a convulsion of violence, overthrown the monarchy and instituted an alledgedly democratic government in its place. Among the many royal loyalists who lost their lives in protest were a group of Carmelite nuns, who maintained their belief that kings get their authority directly from God. Their persecution is the story of “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”

Stage director Lee Strawn hopes to dispel the popular perception that opera is a relic from past centuries. “Carmelites,” Poulenc’s most popular opera, premiered in 1954. “If we do it right, the show is as heart-rending and as modern as the most gripping soap opera,” Strawn said.

Limitations of space prevent a full accompaniment. Therefore, the workshop’s musical director, Elwood Smith, will accompany the production on piano.

The opera will be performed Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Music Building’s Recital Hall. Admission is free.