SMTD presents ‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’ as annual opera

“Dialogues of the Carmelites,” a Francis Poulenc opera based on the Martyrs of Compiègne, is the annual opera for the Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance and runs from Jan. 16-19. 

“Carmelites” presents a dramatized tale about French nuns during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, a time when revolutionaries guillotined many members of the old social order. Against this larger story is the arc of Blanche de la Force, an aristocrat caught in the middle of this turmoil.

According to Drake Dantzler, show director and associate professor of music and voice, the decision to do “Carmelites” as this year’s opera came down to the show’s technical details and themes.

“In the world of opera, there are always challenges because most operas are written for fully matured voices and most voices do not mature until the late 20s to mid-30s,” he said. “One of the things you are always doing when you are doing opera at a university, especially opera focused on undergraduate students, is trying to select appropriate repertoire that is healthy for [students] but also challenges them.”

With regard to the show’s themes, Dantzler pointed out that “Carmelites” showcases how larger social movements can affect people at the personal level. This is evident in the arc of Blanche, an aristocrat who joins the clergy in search of a safe haven. Her tale culminates in the dilemma of running away from the condemned monastery or standing with her sisters as they face the guillotine.   

“I thought that, with all the things going on in our society these days and the complexity of how a large society as a whole creates events for individual humans, that this kind of show would resonate with our audience and our students,” Dantzler said.

The role of Blanche is double cast between Caroline Roberts and Gillian Tackett, who will play the nun on alternating nights.

“Blanche is a lot of extremes,” Tackett said. “She has this overriding fear of death and this fear that bad things are going to happen to her. So, as a character, she has a lot of emotional extremes, and she is not someone you would necessarily see everyday.”

Due to the shared task of handling Blanche, Roberts and Tackett have been working together to help bring Blanche to life. While double casting can create competition between performers, this is not a problem with Roberts and Tackett.

“We actually talked to each other a ton about the role,” Roberts said. “We are really close friends, so being double cast with her has been no issue at all.”

Dantzler believes “Carmelites” is a great opportunity for people who do not know much about opera to come and experience the artform, especially due to how “Carmelites” stands out from stereotypical operas. One major thing that makes the show stand out is its use of dialogue between characters rather than focusing on solo moments.

“I hope the people who came to see it who might not be experienced with opera would be able to appreciate it or be exposed to ideas about opera that they might not have expected,” Dantzler said.