Francis Poulenc Dialogues des Carmélites opera to libretto by the composer based on the play by Georges Bernanos. Directed 2008 by Nikolaus Lehnhoff at the Staatsoper Hamburg. Stars Wolfgang Schöne (Marquis de la Force), Alexia Voulgaridou (Blanche de la Force), Nikolai Schukoff (Le Chevalier de la Force), Kathryn Harries (Madame de Croissy), Anne Schwanewilms (Madame Lidoine), Gabriele Schnaut (Mère Marie de l'Incarnation), Jana Büchner (Sœur Constance), Olive Fredricks (Mère Jeanne), Susanne Bohl (Sœur Maltilde), Benjamin Hulett (Father Confessor for the Convent), Mortiz Gogg (Officier), Frieder Stricker (First Commissionar), Wilhelm Schwinghammer (Second Commissionar), Jan Buchwald (The Jailor), Peter Veit (Thierry, a Lackey), and Rainer Böddeker (Doctor). Simone Young conducts the Philharmoniker Hamburg and the Chor der Staatsoper Hamburg (Chorus Master Florian Csizmadia). Sets by Raimund Bauer; costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer; associate direction by Heiko Hentschel; dramaturgy by Annedore Cordes; lighting by Olaf Freese; TV direction by Andreas Morell. Released 2010, disc has 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: A
In 1794, 16 Camelite nuns were guillotined in Paris because they had taken a vow of martyrdom and refused to abandon their Order. This atrocity appears to have had a huge impact on public opinion. Only 10 days later the French Revolution Reign of Terror came to its end (with the execution of Robespierre). By happenstance, one of the nuns who took the vow of martyrdom, Mère Marie, was not arrested and survived to write her true story of the events. The lost nuns were beatified in 1906.
This true story was used as the basis for fictional treatments by Christian artists, each of whom added embellishments aimed at making the story more compelling to their audiences. In 1931, Gertrud von Le Fort wrote a novella, Die Letzte am Schafott (Last on the Scaffold) in which she added a fictional victim called Blanche de la Force. Blanche was both an alter-ego for Le Fort and a character that all readers could identify with. While he was suffering from a terminal illness, George Bernanos wrote a play based on Le Fort's book called Dialogues des Carmélites. The Bernanos play was published after his death. Poulenc used it as the basis for the opera libretto he wrote himself. The opera premiered in 1957 (the year I was a senior in high-school). So when you dip into the caldron of this opera, you will taste of an old true story laced with political, philosophical, and theological ingredients from 3 distinguished artists and thinkers who lived right up to our times. This is pretty stern stuff for those of us used to thin-moral fare such as Don Pasquale, La Traviata, and The Magic Flute!
Meet Blanche de la Force (Alexia Voulgaridou), the only daughter of an aristocratic French family in say, 1790. Blanche, a fine but timid soul, suffers from deep ill-defined fears that are, I think, stand-ins for the concerns any well-informed person would have had in pre-revolutionary France, the Weimar Republic, Vichy France, or during the Cold War:
Blanche's brother is Le Chevalier de la Force (Nikolai Schukoff). He is worried about his sister:
Poulenc wrote 12 scenes separated by orchestral interludes and grouped into 3 acts. The producers (Lehnhoff?) take advantage of the interludes to provide the video viewer with helpful road signs in German. If you are a Carmélites novice, you can follow this opera well without studying up on it in advance. The translations into English are a bit skimpy at times. Below the German text says, "Blanche asks the gravely-ill Prioress to admit her to the Carmelite Order." The translation provided misses some of this:
The Prioress (Kathryn Harries) has to make a hard call. Blanche is weak. The Prioress seeks strong women who can support the Order; the Order doesn't support it's members. Blanche says she wants to lead an "heroic" life. But the life of a nun is not heroic. Also, the Church does not encourage those who desire martyrdom (I think because that is just a form of suicide). Only God can decide who will be a martyr: