The conditions were not auspicious: a bitter wind, dark skies, my hacking cough and a power cut. Nevertheless, once the generator was fixed, John Doyle's production of Poulenc's Les Carmelites at Grange Park Opera was well worth the three hour freezing wait in the outdoor picnic tent.
The opera, premiered at La Scala in 1957, tells the sad story of the sixteen matyrs of Compiegne. They were Carmelite nuns who refused to obey the order of the government of the French Revolution which demanded the suppression of their convent. Condemned to death as traitors, they were guillotined on 17 July 1794.
The Grange Park production is sparsely staged, making full use of light and shadow to emphasise the horrible fate awaiting the nuns as they debate their dilemma. Hye-Youn Lee is excellent in the main role of Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ and Anne-Marie Owens is very good as the Prioress. The last scene of the nuns following the prioress, one by one, to the guillotine (which was off stage but whose searing noise was chilling), chanting the Salve Regina, was very moving. Our final trial of dashing to the car after the performance in the horizontal rain didn't seem so bad in comparison.