Dialogues des Carmélites

14/12/2017 - 23/12/2017

‘We are not afraid: we imagine we are afraid. Fear is a delusion sent by the devil.’ In his screenplay Dialogues des Carmélites, later adapted for the stage, Georges Bernanos tells the tragic story of the nuns of a Carmelite convent who, during the Terror following the French Revolution, live in hope and fear under the constant threat of the guillotine. Francis Poulenc’s mystical opera is an outlier in his œuvre: its dramatic main theme and traditional tonal language show the influence of Musorgsky, Monteverdi, Debussy, and Verdi. Alain Altinoglu’s musical interpretation and Olivier Py’s pared-down, ascetic directing, acclaimed in Paris in 2013, make of this work a profound reflection on death, fear, and the will to live. ‘We do not die each for ourselves, but one for the other, or even one in place of the other, who knows?’


At the beginning of the French Revolution, the ever-fearful Blanche de la Force joins the Carmelite order. Although the strict rules of the convent offer her a feeling of security, her existential fears continue to trouble her within its walls, especially after she witnesses the traumatic death agonies of the mother superior. When the order is suppressed under the Revolution, the sisters swear that they are willing to die a martyr’s death for their faith. In the turmoil, Blanche flees to her home; in the meantime, however, her father has been guillotined as a victim of the Terror. When she learns that the other sisters have been sentenced to death, Blanche overcomes her fear of dying; at the moment of their execution, she emerges voluntarily from the crowd, joins her sisters, and is the last to mount the scaffold.

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