All star Carmélites

The 2013 recording of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites from the Théâtre des Champs Elysées has a cast that reads like a roll call of famous French singers; Petitbon, Piau, Gens and Koch are all there.  Throw in Rosalind Plowright and Topi Lehtipuu and one gets some idea of the star power on display.

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I ask on my knees, as a blessing, for death

So sings the heroine of César Franck’s early piece Stradella, Léonor, during her abduction and imprisonment by the Duke of Pesaro.  I felt pretty much the same watching the 2012 production from L’Opéra Royale de Wallonie.  The company has a well deserved reputation for reviving neglected works from the French repertoire.  I suppose once in a while if one does that one is pretty sure to come up with a complete turkey and, frankly, that’s how I’d classify Stradella.  Franck left it in piano score and it was orchestrated recently by Marc van Hove so the 2012 Liège production is the premiere.  The plot is essentially trivial.  Stradella, a singer and protegé of the Duke of Pesaro is in love with Léonor, an orphan.  They plan to marry secretly but the duke is also obsessed by the girl and has her kidnapped.  Stuff happens and they both end up dead and the duke repents.  Stradella and Léonor are united in Heaven.  The music is rather dull and highly sentimental.  The sentimentality is reinforced both by the injection of a bunch of morbid religiosity into the plot and the overuse of a children’s chorus.  In fact I ended up wondering whether “Stradella” wasn’t the brand name for a Belgian artificial sweetener.

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