Dialogues of the Carmelites 08
Dialogue of the Carmelites
Music by Francis Poulenc
Text from the drama by Georges Bernanos
Adapted with the authorisation of Emmet Lavery
From a story by Gertrude Von Le Fort
And a scenario by Rev. Bruckberger and Philippe Agostini
Property of CASA Ricordi (Milano) – Universal Music Publishing Ricordi S.r.l
Director: Nicolette Molnar
Designer: Alison Nalder
Lighting Design: Callum Howie
Saturday 21st June
Monday 23rd June
Wednesday 25th June
Thursday 26th June
New Athenaeum Theatre, RSAMD, Glasgow
The opera is set in Paris and Compiègne during the French Revolution and ensuing Reign of Terror. It is based on the true story of the martyrdom of sixteen Carmelite nuns from Compiègne.
Scene 1. Paris, April 1789. The library of the Marquis de La Force.
The Chevalier de la Force is anxious about the safety of his sister Blanche amid the growing unrest in Paris. The Marquis feels that his son is being overly protective until he hears that Blanche’s carriage was seen surrounded by an angry mob. This brings back the haunting memory of the terrifying riot in which he and his pregnant wife had been trapped. The consequence was the premature birth of his daughter and subsequent death of his wife. The Chevalier is concerned about the effect this experience will have on his sister’s fearful and morbid nature. Blanche returns home unharmed, but is tired and nervous. She retires to her room, but returns only moments later having been scared by the shadow of the Valet. She has reached a decision; unable to cope with the anxieties of everyday life, she wishes to become a Carmelite nun. Her father urges her to reconsider, but she feels that only by renouncing the world will God be able to restore her honour.
Scene 2. The parlour of the Carmelite convent at Compiègne.
The ailing Prioress questions Blanche about her desire to take the veil. When Blanche marvels at her detachment from worldly comforts, the Prioress suggests that detachment from self is the greater goal. Blanche admits that what draws her to the Carmelites is the desire for a “heroic life”. The Prioress warns Blanche that she will be stripped of such desires and illusions. She outlines the first purpose of the order: prayer. Blanche believes God will give her the necessary strength, but the Prioress replies that God tests weakness not strength. However severe the regime, Blanche feels the convent is her only refuge. This perception of the convent as a refuge infuriates the Prioress, but she stills asks Blanche if has already chosen her Carmelite name in case she is accepted into the order. The answer startles her: Soeur Blanche of the Agony of Christ...
Scene 3. The workroom and garden of the convent
Blanche and another young novice, Soeur Constance, are performing their daily chores. Constance’s light-hearted chatter irritates Blanche who scolds her for being in such good spirits while the Prioress lies dying. Eventually Blanche admits to being envious of Constance’s cheerfulness. Constance has never been afraid of death; life is fun, so why shouldn’t death be also? Constance suggests they both offer their lives for that of the Prioress, but Blanche rejects the idea as childishness. When Constance reveals that she believes they will both die young and together, Blanche is horrified.
Scene 4. A cell in the convent infirmary.
The Prioress lies on her deathbed. She confesses to Mère Marie that God has become but a shadow to her. Despite a lifetime of prayer and contemplation, she feels isolated and fearful, and unprepared for death. She reveals that Blanche’s choice of name, ‘the Agony of Christ’ has greatly moved her as it was the name she had originally intended to take herself. Of all her charges, she is particularly concerned about Blanche’s future wellbeing and entrusts her to the care and protection of Mère Marie. When Blanche arrives, the Prioress tenderly bids her farewell with the final recommendation not to despise herself, but to entrust her honour to God’s keeping. The Prioress begs the Doctor for more medicine, but he refuses. As her death agony begins, the Prioress grows delirious and she cries out against God. She has a vision of the convent chapel empty and desecrated. Mère Marie attempts to keep the other nuns away, but Blanche is drawn mysteriously back and witnesses the Prioress’ agonized death and last words, ‘death....fear of death”.
Scene 1. The convent chapel.
The nuns keep vigil over the body of the dead Prioress. When Blanche and Constance’s watch comes to an end, Constance leaves to summon their replacements. Left alone with the corpse, Blanche takes fright. As she runs away, she is confronted by Mère Marie who reproaches her, but urges her not to dwell on the incident.
Interlude 1. The convent garden.
Blanche and Constance finish the flower cross they have made for the Prioress’ grave. Constance hopes Mère Marie will be named the new Prioress. She expresses her surprise at the Prioress’ troubled death and her belief that this death was wrongly given to her by God. As a result, someone less worthy will be amazed by an unexpectedly peaceful and easy death. ‘We don’t die for ourselves’ she explains to Blanche, ‘but for each other - or perhaps even in the place of another.’
Scene 2. The chapter room.
The nuns are addressed by the new Prioress. She warns them that the days of peace and security are now over and unknown trials await them. Whatever faces them in the future, the nuns should not aspire beyond their humble duty of prayer. ‘Prayer is a duty, martyrdom a reward.’
Interlude 2. A hallway inside the convent.
The violent ringing of the doorbell in the middle of the night, awakens the nuns. The Chevalier de la Force is leaving to join forces with Monsieur le Prince (Louis XVII’s brother) in an attempt to rescue the king and wishes to see Blanche before he goes. The Prioress grants permission, but asks that Mère Marie be present at their meeting.
Scene 3. The parlour of the convent.
The Chevalier finds Blanche distracted and distant. Their father fears for her safety in the convent and has sent him to urge Blanche to return home. The Chevalier accuses her of staying in the convent out of fear, or her fear of fear, but she refuses to return to a world which has poisoned her with doubt. She begs him to respect her decision to be a Carmelite and to accept that she is now a companion in the battle: ‘they will both be fighting, but in their own way and with their own dangers’. After her brother leaves, Blanche breaks down and confesses to Mère Marie that it was pride that made her reject his pity. She is instructed to rise above it.
Scene 4. The sacristy
The Chaplain of the convent announces that it has been forbidden for him to continue performing his duties. Blanche worries about his safety, but he explains that he intends to disguise himself. He takes leave of the nuns assuring Blanche that he will remain nearby. Constance is appalled by the cowardice of the French people. ‘Is there no one left who will defend the country’s priests?’ ‘Where there are no priests’, says the Prioress, ‘there will be martyrs to maintain the balance of grace.’ Mère Marie takes this as a sign that the Carmelites will be amongst the martyrs, but the Prioress warns that such matters are not for them to decide. The Prioress and Mère Jeanne leave the sacristy. The Chaplain rushes in, having been caught in the street between the crowd and a patrol of soldiers. He worries about the nuns’ safety if he should be found with them, but has no other choice than to take refuge in the convent. The people demand that the convent doors be opened. At Mère Marie’s order the doors are opened to the mob and two Commissioners. The First Commissioner announces that the Legislative Assembly has banned all religious orders and that the convent is to closed and sold. Mère Marie asks for the nuns to be provided with civilian clothing. As she argues with the Second Commissioner about the ‘uniform not making the soldier’ and the value of martyrdom at a time of revolution, he confesses to being sympathetic to their plight; sometimes it is necessary to ‘run with the wolves’. As the Commissioners and crowd leave, Mère Jeanne enters to inform the nuns that the Prioress has been ordered to report to Paris. She brings with her a little statue of the baby Jesus, the “Little King of Glory” and gives it to Blanche for comfort. Startled by shouts from the crowd outside, Blanche drops the statue and breaks it.
Scene 1. The convent chapel, desecrated and ruined.
In the Prioress’ absence, Mère Marie assumes charge. She proposes the nuns take a vow of martyrdom so as to preserve and save the order. The Dean of the community, Mère Jeanne expresses her fear that the taking of this vow may divide the community or even go against one’s conscience. Her concern is alleviated on hearing that the decision must be unanimous and that a secret vote will be taken, overseen by the Chaplain. There is one vote against. Blanche is suspected, but to everyone’s surprise, Constance claims the vote was hers. She begs to be allowed to reverse her decision. Blanche and Constance are the first to assume the vow, but as the others take the vow, Blanche flees.
Interlude 1. A street outside the convent.
The Prioress has returned from Paris and leads the nuns as they leave the convent. An Officer welcomes them to their new lives as civilians of the Republic, but warns that they are under surveillance. They are forbidden any further practise of their profession or any contact with priests and other ‘enemies of the State”. The Prioress sends a message to the Chaplain, who had agreed to conduct mass for them later that morning, warning him that it is too dangerous to meet. Mère Marie protests that such caution goes against the vow they have taken. Taking the vow may have been ill-advised, but the act cannot now be undone. The Prioress takes upon herself full responsibility for the well being of the community and overrules the objection.
Scene 2. The destroyed library of the Marquis de La Force.
Mère Marie has come to Paris in search of Blanche. She finds her living as a mistreated servant in her father’s ransacked house. Mère Marie offers to take her to safety, but Blanche just wants to be left alone. She has always lived in fear and as the world despises fear, believes it is only right that she too should be despised. She feels unworthy of her father who only a few days earlier was guillotined. Mère Marie reminds her that it is no misfortune to be despised, but only to despise oneself. Despite her protests, Mère Marie gives Blanche the address of a safe house and says she will await her there.
Interlude 2. A street near the Bastille
Blanche hears that the Compiègne Carmelites have been arrested.
Scene 3. Daybreak in a prison cell at the Conciergerie. The nuns have been brought to Paris and have spent their first night in prison. The Prioress comforts them and assumes the vow of martyrdom herself, along with its responsibility. Constance is anxious about Blanche, but feels certain that she will return and join them. The Gaoler delivers the verdict of the Revolutionary Tribunal. The nuns have been found guilty of sedition and all condemned to death. The Prioress tells her charges she wishes she could have spared them from this sacrifice, and places them under obedience to her for the last time.
Interlude 3. A street near the Bastille
The Chaplain tells Mère Marie that the nuns have been condemned to death. She is determined to join them, but the Chaplain stops her. He reminds her that her vow was made to God and that it is in God’s hands to chose or spare whom he pleases. She is distraught that her sisters will go to their death without her, but the Chaplain insists that she must submit to her deliverance as God’s will.
Scene 4. Place de la Révolution, 17 July 1794.
One by one the nuns go to their deaths singing the Salve Regina until only the voice of Constance remains. She falters momentarily, but regains strength when she sees Blanche step out from the crowd. When Constance’s voice is silenced, Blanche fearlessly continues singing the closing words of the Veni Creator; thereby sealing her fate alongside that of her sister Carmelites.
Production Manager David Ripley
Stage Manager: Susan Scott
Deputy Stage Manager: Calum Wyllie
Asst. Stage Manager: Stephen Spence
Asst. Stage Manager: Anne Hamilton
Technical Stage Manager: Graeme Mackie
Deputy Technical Stage Manager: Ashley Thomas
Production Electrician: Peter Strain
Lighting Operator: Michaella Fee
Paintframe Manager: Stephanie Todd
Assistant Carpenters: Iain Waugh
Props Workshop Manager: Astrella Oldham
Marquis de la Force - Benjamin Weaver
Blanche de la Force - Catharine Rogers
Chevalier de la Force - Reuben Lai
Madame de Croissy - Louise Collett (the Prioress)
Madame Lidoine.- Fiona Scott**/ Margret Einarsdóttir (the new Prioress)
Mère Marie - Bohae Kim / Elysia Leech** (Assistant Prioress)
Soeur Constance - Bronagh Byrne / Sung Eun Seo**
Mère Jeanne - Marion Ramsay
Mère Mathilde - Emilie Alford
L’Aumonier (Father Confessor) - .James Geer
First Commissary - Leonel Pinheiro
Second Commissary - Andrew McTaggart
First Officier - Andrew McTaggart
Jailer - Richard Latham
thierry (A footman) - Bryan Benner
Doctor Javelinot - .James Smyth
**Saturday 21st and Thursday 26th June
Marie Claire Breen
Alan John , Elaine Sexton , Catherine Robertson , Gordon Duncan , George Smith , Alex Smith, Laura McKinlay , Kristan Harvey
Kathleen McCrudden , Katie Stone , Daniel Paterson , Kay Stephen , Emily Mory, Megan Henderson , Viola Emma Peebles , Panna Kukuszi , Alastair Mailer , Liam Redmond
Abigail Hayward , Laura Sergeant , Emma Turley , Marianne Diessner
Ed Lucas, Christine Cooper
Sharon Dowsett , Lucy Driver
Arlene Cochrane , Siobhan Donnelly
Abraham G Chavez , Amy Strachan
Graeme Brown , Judith Barclay
Anna Mary Lynch
Samantha McShane , Craig MacDonald , Jamie Shield , Shangdian Wang
Anna Cox , Mandy Murphy , Fiona Pitcathley
Helen Douthwaite , John Connolly , Gordon Seith
James Swan , Alison Shaw
Charlotte Sager , Kirsteen Fowler
Ellen Lampo , Susannah Wapshot