Dialogues des Carmélites
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Opera in three acts (twelve scenes)
Libretto by the composer after the drama by Georges Bernanos
In French with German and English surtitles. Duration approx. 2 H. 50 Min. incl. intermission after approx. 1 H. 10 Min. Introduction 45 min before the performance.
Introductory matinee on January 30 2022
Dialogues des Carmélites
Dialogues des Carmélites
The Chevalier de la Force is concerned about his sister, Blanche. News has reached him that her carriage was held up by a mob of revolutionaries. The Chevalier’s description of the incident triggers old, painful memories in his father: an accident involving fireworks, his pregnant wife, fleeing from a raging mob, the child then born prematurely. The mother died in childbirth, while her daughter, Blanche, survived.
Blanche describes the terror she experienced in the carriage. A servant’s shadow on the wall causes her to panic, and confronts her, yet again with her fear. She informs her father of her desire to join the Order of Carmelites, and spend her life in a convent. Only there, - does she feel - she can find peace.
Blanche asks Madame de Croissy, the frail and ailing prioress of the Order, to admit her as a novice to the convent. The prioress warns Blanche that the path she has chosen is full of hardship, and that the Order is no refuge. However, the stern, austere rules of the convent strengthen Blanche’s conviction to become a nun even more. Once she declares her desire to be known as Blanche of the Agony of Christ, the prioress, disturbed by this choice, gives Blanche her blessings.
Blanche and Constance, another novice of the Order, are busy doing chores. An indignant Blanche chides Constance for her relentlessly merry disposition, especially given the prioress’ severe illness. When Constance tells Blanche of her vision she had in which the two of them will die together one day, Blanche interrupts her angrily.
The prioress is nearing her end. Even her faith cannot protect her from being overwhelmed by fear and pain. Mère Marie de l’Incarnation, who is by her side, is horrified by the prioress’ impious talk. The prioress orders Mère Marie to take Blanche into her care. She asks for Blanche to be brought to her, and her speech acts as a bequest. In a vision, she foresees the destruction of the convent. Blanche witnesses her slow, and painful death.
Blanche and Constance are holding a wake over the prioress’ body. Blanche experiences a sudden burst of panic, and attempts to flee the chapel. Mère Marie joins her and reprimands her severely, but also advises her not to be too hard on herself for having failed in her duties.
Interlude: while preparing the flower arrangement for the deceased prioress, Blanche and Constance are discussing potential successors. Constance hopes it will be Mère Marie. The prioress’ death is still on her mind. She wonders, whether she might have died the death of another.
Instead of Mère Marie, who was born into high nobility, the humble Madame Lidoine is chosen to succeed the prioress. In her first address to the sisters, she asks them to seek salvation in prayer, not martyrdom, even in politically tumultuous times such as these.
Interlude: more and more noise of the Revolution permeates the sombre quiet of the convent. The Chevalier de la Force asks to speak to his sister. The prioress insists on Mère Marie being present during their conversation.
In light of the dangerous political situation, the Chevalier thinks it advisable to leave France. He implores Blanche to return to her father’s house. But Blanche defends her new life at the convent. She asserts that it is not fear that is keeping her within its walls, but a sense of duty.
The convent’s confessor has delivered his last mass to the nuns. He has just been removed from his office, and will henceforth practice his faith in secret. The sounds of an angry mob seep into the convent. A representative of the people announces that all convents and monasteries are to be vacated, in line with the new policy. Mère Jeanne gives Blanche the Petit Roi. Yet another noise from outside makes Blanche jump and drop the little statue in fright.
In the absence of the prioress, Mère Marie suggests the vow of martyrdom to her sisters. A secret vote takes place. Only one of the nuns voted against the vows. Constance confesses that it was her, but then joins her sisters.
Interlude: The voice of a public official proclaims the end of all religious, co-habiting communities, and declares all nuns citizens. As the prioress returns to the convent, she has to discover that the nuns have taken the vow of martyrdom against her will.
Blanche has fled the convent and lives as a servant in her father’s former house. Her father has been executed by the revolutionaries. Mère Marie beseeches her to go into hiding. But Blanche stays.
All nuns – with the exception of Mère Marie – have been arrested on charges of alleged counterrevolutionary activities. The prioress is comforting her sisters and takes on the responsibility for the vow of martyrdom, despite not having pronounced it herself. She reminds the sisters of Christ’s agony of death in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The nuns are sentenced to death.
Interlude: the father confessor relates the news of the nuns’ pending execution to Mère Marie. He wants to prevent her from joining her sisters in death. Mère Marie is torn, yet she eventually gives in and escapes.
Singing the Salve Regina, the Carmelite nuns are executed by guillotine, one after the other. Constance’s vision, in which she and Blanche die side by side, becomes true: Blanche emerges and follows her sisters, calm and composed.