" Think not of your fears - but of the gaze of God upon you, on whom you should fix your own."
An opera in three acts
Libretto by the composer after a text by George Bernanos; adapted to a lyric opera with the authorization of Emmet Lavery; the drama inspired by a novel of Gertrud von le Fort and by a scenario of Rev. Father Bruckberger and Phillippe Agostini
First performance: Milan; La Scala, January 26, 1957
Sung in English with English supertitles above the stage
July 2, 13 & 15, 2011 7:30pm
July 10, 2011 2:00pm
One of the twentieth century’s most powerful, important and emotionally challenging operas, Dialogues of the Carmelites is based on a play by Georges Bernanos and was premiered at La Scala in Milan. Set against the terrifying backdrop of the French Revolution, it tells the story about a young woman of nobility who becomes a nun, against the wishes of her father and brother. Blanche de la Force is deeply afraid of the terror of the world in which she finds herself and joins the convent in an attempt to find refuge where she can live and work without fear. And then the Revolution begins and nothing is ever the same again. This is a story about real people but told with some abstractions that reflect the fact that often what we say to each other is not exactly what we mean.
As the wheels of the Revolution turn, giants are felled and lesser people are left behind to tremble in the wake. The opera records the everyday happenings and conversations in Blanche’s life as she watches those around her deal with faith and courage and those events that lead her to her own crisis of faith versus fear. The final scene stands alone and apart as one of the most powerful moments in all musical theatre.
Mother Gerald, an old nun
Sister Claire, an old nun
Sister Antoine, an old nun
Sister Anne of the Cross
Sister St. Charles
The Father Confessor of the Convent
Thierry, a valet
M. Javelinot, a physician
Officials of the municipality, officers, police, prisoners, guards
Cast and opera are subject to change without notice.
The action of the opera takes place in France from 1789 to 1794. The central figure is Blanche de la Force, a daughter of a family of aristocrats, who cannot conquer her fear of life – or of death. At the first tremors of the revolution she seeks to avoid her struggle with the world by becoming a nun.
SCENE 1: Blanche, terrified by an incident in which her carriage was stopped by a group of angry peasants is impelled to tell her father her decision to join the order of Carmelites at Compiegne.
SCENE 2: She is interviewed by the Prioress.
SCENE 3: Now a member of the community, Blanche goes about her duties with her best friend, the young nun Constance. In Speaking of the illness of the Prioress, we learn of Blanche’s near hysteria at the mention of death and Constance’s strange premonition that they will die together.
SCENE 4: They dying Prioress is appalled by her own weakness and fear. Feeling particularly her responsibility toward Blanche, who chose as her name in the order the same chosen as a young nun by the old Prioress herself, the old woman entrusts her to the particular care of the Assistant Prioress, Mother Marie.
SCENE 5: Left momentarily alone while standing watch at the pier of the Prioress, Blanche gives way to panic and leaves her post.
INTERLUDE 1: Constance and Blanche discuss the shocking behavior of the dying Prioress, who would seem, according to the artless Constance, to have been given the wrong death as one sometimes receives the wrong coat in a coatroom.
SCENE 6: The Community assembles for the ceremony of obedience to the new Prioress, a plain-spoken woman of humble extraction.
INTERLUDE 1: A visitor is announced for Blanche. She is permitted to see her brother who, because of the events of the revolution, must leave France.
SCENE 1: Blanche refuses her brother’s request to return to their father.
SCENE 2: The Father Confessor of the convent informs the nuns that the revolutionary officials have relieved him of his duties and that he must flee for his life. Officials of the new regime arrive and read the decree of the legislative assembly dissolving all religious orders.
SCENE 3: After the convent is pillaged, Mother Marie (in the brief absence of the new Prioress) proposes the nuns take the vow of martyrdom. A unanimous vote is required. There is one dissent (and all suspect Blanche). Sister Constance announces it was hers, and she wishes to change her vote. After taking the vow, Blanche runs away from the convent.
INTERLUDE 2: The Carmelites, divested of their religious garb, are forced to leave the convent.
Scene 4: Mother Marie finds Blanche, now a servant in what used to be her home, but is unsuccessful in persuading her to return to the nuns.
SCENE 5: The nuns, in prison, receive the sentence of death.
INTERLUDE 3: Mother Marie learns of the death sentence. The former Father Confessor of the convent tells her that, in spite of her feeling that she must join the sisters in death it is God who decides which of us shall live and which shall die.
SCENE 6: The nuns are brought to the Place de la Revolution. Only Mother Marie, who insisted upon the vow of martyrdom, is absent as Blanche, without fear, appears through the crowd to join Constance in the procession to the scaffold.