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Dialogues des Carmélites

on May 30, 2023
This is the page for the performance on May 30, 2023.
Music Francis Poulenc
Oper in drei Akten und 12 Bildern
Text nach dem Drama von Georges Bernanos
Bearbeitet mit der Genehmigung von Emmet Lavery
Nach einer Erzählung von Gertrude von Le Fort
und einem Drehbuch von Pfarrer Bruckberger und Philippe Agostini

Cast 30.05.2023

Conductor Bertrand de Billy
Production Magdalena Fuchsberger
Stage Design Monika Biegler
Costume Design Valentin Köhler
Video Aron Kitzig
Lighting Design Rudolf Fischer
Blanche Nicole Car
Le Chevalier Bernard Richter
Madame de Croissy Michaela Schuster
Madame Lidoine Maria Motolygina
Mère Marie Eve-Maud Hubeaux
Le Marquis de la Force Michael Kraus
Soeur Constance Maria Nazarova
Mutter Jeanne Monika Bohinec
Schwester Mathilde Alma Neuhaus
Beichtvater des Karmel Thomas Ebenstein
1. Kommissar Andrea Giovannini
2. Kommissar Jusung Gabriel Park
Offizier Jack Lee
Kerkermeister Clemens Unterreiner


In April 1789, while the Reveillon riots in Paris herald the beginning of the French Revolution, the young Blanche de la Force announces a lasting decision to her father, the Marquis: she wants to enter the Order of the Carmelite Sisters of Compiègne. There, the young woman, who has been plagued by inexplicable fears since childhood, hopes for relief and clarity. At the convent, Blanche, who chooses the religious title Sœur Blanche de l'Agonie du Christ (Sister Blanche of Christ's Agony), witnesses the death throes of the dying prioress Madame de Croissy at close quarters and is troubled by the young novice Sœur Constanze de St.-Denis with the vision that they would both die young and on the same day. The new prioress, the bourgeois Madame Lidoine, swears the Carmelite nuns to prayer in times of incipient terreur and warns them against vain longings for martyrdom. When Madame Lidoine is summoned to Paris, the novice mistress Mère Marie de l'Incarnation arranges a vote committing the sisters to martyrdom. Blanche is no longer able to cope with the pressure and her fear and takes refuge in the house of her father, who has since been executed, where she lives as a maid to the new owners. After the orders are banned, the Carmelite nuns are initially declared citizens, but are then sentenced to death for counter-revolutionary conspiracy. The prioress is the first to go to the scaffold, while Mère Marie, who was not in the convent at the time of the arrest, escapes the intended martyrdom. As the nuns go to the scaffold singing the Salve Regina, Blanche appears in the crowd. She joins in the chant and is the last to enter the scaffold.

Program booklet (2,50€)

About the direction
The work's liveliness is also due to the atmospheric accents of an uncanny richness of facets – not to mention the distinctive work with recurring motifs that characterise the characters. Magdalena Fuchsberger's production takes up this diversity, leading the Carmelite nuns in haunting images through the »flats of the Inner Castle« all the way to the scaffold.

About the music
Francis Poulenc traces his characters in a captivatingly clear score which, like almost all his compositions, moves within the tonal framework, more precisely that of a diatonic neoclassicism. Poulenc, whose great passion was song composition, is also a composer of voices and language here: the music serves the singing, the singing forms the characters, which Poulenc shapes with individual rhythmic diction and melody and lets them enter into the dialogue that gives the work its title.

»Blanche, c'est moi«, Francis Poulenc wrote about the main character of his only full-length opera. »Blanche, that's me«. The composer borrows here the bon mot of another great French artist - »Madame Bovary, c'est moi« Gustave Flaubert is said to have said about his novel character. And like the quotation, Poulenc makes his own the story of Blanche de La Force, who enters the Carmelite convent of Compiègne near Paris at the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. The story of the 16 nuns of Compiègne, who were executed in Paris in 1794, forms the historically verified framework for a fictional plot in which the composer and librettist Poulenc takes on the ultimate human theme: The fear of death.

Act 1
The young Chevalier de la Force is asking about his sister Blanche, worried. A friend of the family had seen her coach surrounded by an angry crowd. The Marquis de la Force, father of the Chevalier and Blanche, is horrified by the parallels with the circumstances in which his wife died. The Chevalier explains he isn’t worried about Blanche’s safety, but about the mental state of his notoriously fearful sister. Shortly after this, Blanche surprises her father by telling him she wants to enter the Carmelite convent in Compiègne.
Blanche tells the Carmelite mother superior, Madame de Croissy, that she wants to lead a «heroic life«. The mother superior replies bluntly that the sole purpose of the convent was prayer. Blanche still wishes to enter the convent. Asked by the mother superior for her religious name, she replies Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ.
The young novice Sister Constance reveals Blanche her wish to die young. Now, she believes that both she and Blanche will suffer this fate, and on the same day.
The mother superior is dying. She obtains a promise from her deputy, the novice mistress Mother Marie of the Incarnation, to take Blanche under her care. With increasing pain, the prioress begins to rail against God. She has a vision, the Carmelite chapel is destroyed. Shortly before she dies, the mother superior calls Blanche to her and whispers something to her.

Act 2
Blanche and Constance are keeping vigil over the body. When Constance goes for their relief, Blanche is afraid, and also leaves the chapel. She is caught by Mother Marie and sent to her cell.
Blanche and Constance weave a cross from flowers and think about the difficult death of the mother superior. Constance wonders if the mother superior had died the »wrong« death, which she explains as, »You don’t die for yourself, but for someone else, or even instead of someone else, who knows?«
The new mother superior, Madame Lidoine, gives a vivid sermon on her arrival. She describes the coming challenges, and warns against arrogance and obstinacy, particularly with regard to martyrdom. The temptation of this could divert the sisters from their real duty, which is prayer. On Mother Marie’s instruction the sister say the Hail Mary together.
The Chevalier de la Force asks to be admitted to see his sister before he leaves the country. The new mother superior orders Mother Marie to be present at the meeting.
The Chevalier tries to persuade Blanche to leave the convent, arguing that the Revolution is turning against religion, so she will not be safe there. Blanche defends her place in the convent. Brother and sister part, estranged.
The convent’s chaplain tells the Carmelites that he has been removed from office. Mother Marie tries to interpret a statement by the mother superior as a call to martyrdom, which the mother superior strictly rejects, saying that only God can choose martyrs. Two commissars appear and announce that the convent will be closed. Mother Jeanne of the Infant Jesus claims that the mother superior must go to Paris. To help Blanche overcome her fear, she gives her the »Infant King«, a figurine of the Infant Christ. There is noise outside, and Blanche drops the figure. The head breaks off. In despair, Blanche claims that after the »death« of the Infant King, all that is left to the sisters is the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

Act 3
In the mother superior’s absence Mother Marie takes a vote on whether the Carmelites should take a vow committing to martyrdom in the cause of the continuing existence of the Carmelite convent and the salvation of France. The chaplain, who has returned, organizes the secret vote. There is one vote against. The Carmelites look at Blanche, but Constance hurries to explain that it was her vote, and that she is withdrawing it. The sisters rush to the altar to make their vow. Blanche vanishes in the confusion.
An official declares that the convent has been dissolved, and that the nuns are now normal citizens. Madame Lidoine wants to cancel the chaplain’s planned visit as it would put him and the nuns in danger. While Mother Marie questions whether an excess of caution is contrary to the spirit of the vow, Madame Lidoine counters this, noting her responsibility for the sisters entrusted to her care.
Mother Marie visits Blanche, who has returned to her father’s house in Paris, where she lives as a maid to the new owners. Mother Marie asks Blanche to come with her. Blanche refuses, all that matters to her now is the safety she sought refuge in. She laments her life with fear and contempt. Mother Marie gives Blanche the address where she will expect her.
On the street in the Bastille district, Blanche hears that the Carmelites have been condemned to death. When they ask her if she comes from the Compiègne area, she denies knowing the place.
The mother superior encourages the sisters. She assumes responsibility for the vow, although it was decided in her absence, and she never made it. When Blanche is mentioned in connection with fear, Constance assures them that she will return. She has seen it in a dream. The gaoler reads the death sentence.
The chaplain brings Mother Marie the news of the death sentence. She wants to go to the sisters, but the chaplain restrains her, saying that God decides who He will preserve, and who not. Mother Marie is desperate at the loss of her honour.
The sisters go to the scaffold singing the Salve Regina. The choir is reduced one by one every time the guillotine falls. Blanche appears in the crowd and is recognized by Constance. Blanche joins in the hymn. She is the last one to go to the scaffold.