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Dialogues of the Carmelites
(also known as: Dialogues des Carmélites; The Carmelites)
(by Francis Poulenc)

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Opera in three acts.

Composed in 1953-56.

Premiere: 26 July 1957 at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy.

Libretto: Francis Poulenc after Georges Bernanos. Based on a true story of nuns guillotined in 1794.

Elin Rombo as Sister Blanche (Dialogues of the Carmelites 2011 production) (image)

Elin Rombo as Sister Blanche in Karmelitsystrarna (Dialogues of
the Carmelites) in a 2011 production at the Royal Swedish Opera.

Photo: Alexander Kenny

Act 1
The French Revolution is engulfing the country of France. Blanche, a young woman from the aristocracy, announces to her family that she wishes to seek refuge as a nun in the Carmelite convent in Compiegne. When she arrives, Blanche is questioned by the prioress, Madame de Croissy, who warns her that being a nun will not protect her from the revolutionary gangs. Blanche is accepted into the convent where she she meets another nun, Constance (previously a peasant girl). Constance predicts that they will die together and tells Blanche that she believes that people can die in the stead of other people. The Prioress is slowly dying and her death-throws are agonizing and undignified, which lead her to blaspheme. This shocks Mother Marie, who attending her. The Prioress asks Mother Marie to watch over Blanche. She bids farewell to Blanche and dies.

Act 2
The Terror of the French Revolution is getting close and terrible events are occurring near the convent. Blanche watches over the body of Madame de Croissy as it lies in state. She panics but is calmed by the ever-stolid Mother Marie. The new Prioress, Madame Lidoire, arrives. Blanche's brother comes to the convent and exhorts her to leave the convent , saying she has a duty to serve God. Madame Lidoire warns the nuns against the temptations of martyrdom. A revolutionary mob mobs threatens to attack the convent. The revolutionary authorities order the convent to disband.

Act 3
The Carmelite order is declared illegal and the convent shut down and ransacked. The nuns vote to accept martyrdom. Blanche runs away, disguised as a servant. Mother Maries asks Blanche to return but she refuses. The nuns are jailed in the Conciergerie prison in Paris awaiting their fate. The Prioress, Madame Lidoire, urges them to accept their fate steadfastly and prayerfully. The nuns are taken to the place of execution. they sing the Salve regina prayer as, one by one, they step forward to be publically guillotined. Blanche, serene and transfigured, suddenly steps up from the watching crowd and joins the nuns in their martyrdom.

Study Notes on Dialogues of the Carmelites
Francis Poulenc was one of the group of composers known as Les Six (The Six), other members of which included Honegger.

Poulenc was regarded as the "bad boy" of 20th century French classical music and opera but this work shows his deeply religious and Catholic side.

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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