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Dialogues des carmélites

→ Oper in drei Akten und 12 Bildern

Music Francis Poulenc
Text Francis Poulenc nach Georges Bernanos u.a.

Premiere Mai 21, 2023

Premiere series May 21, / 24, / 27, / 30 Mai 2023
Juni 2, 2023

Introductory matinee May 7, 2023

Musical direction Bertrand de Billy
Production Magdalena Fuchsberger
Stage design Monika Biegler
Costume design Valentin Köhler
Video Aron Kitzig
Light design Rudolf Fischer / Robert Eisenstein

Blanche Sabine Devieilhe
Le Chévalier Bernard Richter
Madame de Croissy Michaela Schuster
Madame Lidoine Nicole Car
Mère Marie Eve-Maud Hubeaux
Le Marquis de la Force Michael Kraus
Sœur Constance Maria Nazarova

Information & tickets

Of the three operas created by Francis Poulenc, his only full-length opera is based on a historical event from the time of the »Grande Terreur« in France: on 12 July 1794, 16 nuns belonging to the Carmel of Compiègne were executed in Paris. They had continued to practise their faith communally after the abolition of all religious communities by the National Assembly, and the charge of the Revolutionary Tribunal was accordingly counter-revolutionary practices. In the most famous scene of his work - the last - Poulenc set this very execution to music, following not only the literary models for his libretto but also tradition: the nuns ascend the scaffold, singing the Salve Regina. With the sound of the axe, one voice is cut off at a time, until at the end only one singer can be heard. When this voice is also interrupted by the sharp sound of the guillotine and shortly afterwards another soprano voice intones the Veni creator spiritus, the strong interweaving of historicising and fictional elements comes to a climax, which made the   such a gripping theatrical material and helped to secure the work an important place in the opera history of the 20th century.

At the centre of the work is the character who, in the scene described, intones the hymn to the Holy Spirit that is sung in the Catholic Church on such momentous occasions as the entry of the cardinals into the synod for the election of the Pope: Blanche de la Force. This character is not historical, but a creation of the German author Gertrud von le Fort, on whose novella Die Letzte am Schafott the play Dialogues des Carmélites by the French author Georges Bernanos is based, which in turn served Francis Poulenc as a model for the libretto to his opera.

Blanche de la Force decides to live in the Carmel against the objections of her aristocratic family, who are positively disposed towards the ideals of the Revolution - here she expects to be able to lead a »heroic life«. With her choice of the order's name Blanche de l'Agonie du Christ - Blanche of the Fear of Christ's Death - the central theme of the opera is already brought to the point in the second scene: the fear of death, especially in connection with Christ's holy agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, is a contested theme in the Carmel in revolutionary France. There is the dying prioress Madame de Croissy, who is so overcome by fear that she doubts God in her death throes, which gives the young nun Constance de Saint Dénis ideas: »One does not die for oneself alone, but some for others; or even some instead of others, who knows?« There is the new prioress, Madame Lidoine, who warns against forgetting humility in the enthusiasm for martyrdom. There is her counterpart, the sub-prioress Mère Marie de l'Incarnation, who seems to succumb to this very danger. And there is above all Blanche, who threatens to despair of that aspired heroism, of the pressing desire to mean »something great«.

Gertrud von le Fort described the figure of Blanche as the starting point of her poetry and as the »embodiment of the fear of death of an entire epoch«: Die Letzte am Schafott was published in Germany in 1932. The questions about dying for something and for others, about the fear of death, the nature of a meaningful life and the shaping of a community that are negotiated in it are fascinating within the theological context from which they originate - and reach far beyond it.

Francis Poulenc traces his protagonists in a captivatingly clear score which, like almost all his compositions, moves within the tonal framework, specifically 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 shapes the characters. For orientation, the composer assigned five great female voices of opera literature to the five main female roles - Amneris, Kundry, Desdemona, Thaïs and Zerlina. Based on these vocal ideas, Poulenc creates characters, each with their own rhythmic diction and melody, who enter into the titular dialogues with each other. The work's liveliness is also due to the pronounced use of recurring motifs that musically capture the characters' spiritual lives in a remarkable richness of detail: for example, the themes of "peur", "anxiété" and "crainte" represent three different shades of the central topos of fear.

Dialogues des Carmélites was first performed at the Vienna State Opera in 1959, two years after its premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and its French-language premiere at the Opéra de Paris. Dialogues des Carmélites was last seen at the Haus am Ring in 1964 in this production by the world premiere director Margarethe Wallmann. The work of director Magdalena Fuchsberger and maestro Bertrand de Billy is thus the first new production of Francis Poulenc's Chef d'Œuvre at the Vienna State Opera in more than sixty years.


Spotify Playlist

About the playlist

In the course of the premiere of the French version, the recording of Poulenc's »Dialogues« was made in 1958, with the composer's preferred instrumentation. It forms the framework of the playlist here, which also includes highlights from (live) recordings under Jean-Pierre Marty, Kent Nagano and Bertrand de Billy.


»This piece is one of the masterpieces that will occupy and accompany me all my life. Poulenc at the highest point of his creativity, a grandiose text by Bernanos and a true and very strong story with very many different levels: religious, of course, but also historical, philosophical, psychological. Also a mirror of the society of the wild and frightening time of the French Revolution.
A play that grows in you and that you grow with.«

»Truthful, contradictory, multi-layered and deeply human, Dialogues des Carmélites is a political thriller, a religious war, a power struggle and a story about fear and the attempt to free oneself from it. The revolution not only rages on the outside, but is reflected inside the Carmelites in individual ways - the conversations they have with themselves, with each other and with God make it clear that each of the Carmelites has her own personal battle to fight.«