Dialogues of the Carmelites

Synopsis

 

Act 1

Against the setting of the French Revolution, when crowds stop carriages in the street and aristocrats are attacked, the pathologically timid Blanche de la Force decides to retreat from the world and enter a Carmelite monastery. The Mother Superior informs her that the Carmelite Order is not a refuge; it is the duty of the nuns to guard the Order, not the other way around. In the convent, the jolly Sister Constance tells Blanche (to her consternation) that she has had a dream that the two of them will die young together. The prioress, who is dying, commits Blanche to the care of Mother Marie. The Mother Superior passes away in great agony, shouting in her delirium that despite her long years of service to God, He has abandoned her. Blanche and Mother Marie, who witness her death, are shaken.

 

Act 2

Sister Constance remarks to Blanche that the prioress' death seemed unworthy of her, and speculates that she had been given the wrong death, as one might be given the wrong coat in a cloakroom. She said that perhaps someone else will find death surprisingly easy. Perhaps we die not for ourselves alone, but for each other.

Blanche's brother, the Chevalier de la Force, arrives to announce that their father thinks Blanche should withdraw from the monastery, since she is not safe there (being both an aristocrat and the member of a religious community, at a time of anti-aristocrat and anti-clericalism in the rising revolutionary tides). Blanche refuses, saying that she has found happiness in the Carmelite Order. Later she admits to Mother Marie that it is fear (or the fear of fear itself, as the Chevalier expresses it) that keeps her from leaving.

The chaplain announces that he has been forbidden to preach (presumably for being a non-juror under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). The nuns remark on how fear rules the country, and no one has the courage to stand up for the priests. Sister Constance asks, "Are there no men left to come to the aid of the country?" "When priests are lacking, martyrs are superabundant," replies the new Mother Superior. Mother Marie says that the Carmelites can save France by giving their lives, but the Mother Superior corrects her: it is not permitted to choose to become a martyr; God decides who will be martyred.

A police officer arrives and announces to the community that the Legislative Assembly has nationalized the monastery and its property, and the nuns must give up their religious habits. When Mother Marie acquiesces, the officer taunts her for being eager to dress like everyone else. She replies that the nuns will continue to serve, no matter how they are dressed. "The people have no need of servants," proclaims the officer haughtily. "No, but they have a great need for martyrs," responds Mother Marie. "In times like these, death is nothing," he says. "Life is nothing," she answers, "when it is so debased."

 

Act 3

In the absence of a new prioress, Mother Marie proposes that the nuns take a vow of martyrdom. However, all must agree, or Mother Marie will not insist. A secret vote is held; there is one dissenting voice. Sister Constance declares that she was the dissenter, and that she has changed her mind, so the vow can proceed. Blanche runs away from the monastery, and Mother Marie goes to look for her, finding her in her father's library. Her father has been guillotined, and Blanche has been forced to serve her former servants.

The nuns are all arrested and condemned to death, but Mother Marie is away at the time of the arrest. Upon receiving the news, the chaplain tells Mother Marie, when they meet again, that since God has chosen to spare her, she cannot voluntarily become a martyr by joining the others in prison.

At the place of execution, the nuns (one by one) slowly mount the scaffold, singing the "Salve Regina" ("Hail, Holy Queen"). At the last minute, Blanche appears, to Constance's joy, and joins the condemned community. Having seen all the other nuns executed, as she mounts the scaffold, Blanche sings the final stanza of the "Veni Creator Spiritus," "Deo Patri sit gloria...", the Catholic hymn traditionally used when taking vows in a religious community and offering one's life to God.

Program and cast

Cast


Conductor: János Kovács
Blanche de la Force: Gabriella Létay Kiss
Marquis de la Force: Anatoly Fokanov
Chevalier de la Force: Gergely Boncsér
Madame de Croissy, the prioress: Lívia Budai
Madame Lidoine, the new prioress: Zita Váradi
Mother Marie of the Incarnation: Gabriella Balga
Sister Constance of St. Denis: Zita Szemere
Mother Jeanne: Éva Balatoni
Sister Mathilde: Melinda Heiter
Father Confessor János Szerekován
First commissary: Tivadar Kiss
Second commissary: Róbert Rezsnyák
Officer: Géza Zsigmond
Gaoler: N.N.
Thierry, the valet: N.N.
Doctor Javelinot: N.N.


Credits


Libretto after the drama of Georges Bernanos: Francis Poulenc
Director: Ferenc Anger
Set designer: Éva Szendrényi
Costume designer: Gergely Zöldy Z
Dramaturg, Hungarian surtitles: Judit Kenesey
English surtitles: Arthur Roger Crane
Chorus director: Gábor Csiki

Buy tickets
May 2020
Mo
Tu
We
Th
Fr
Sa
Su

Erkel Theatre

Opened in 1911 originally, the Erkel Theatre is Hungary’s largest theatre building. Its history is intertwined with the golden age of Hungarian opera performance, with such luminaries as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Éva Marton and Grace Bumbry all having graced the stage of a building whose acoustics are considered the stuff of opera legend.

After being shuttered up for more than five years with its fate in doubt following closure in 2007, the Hungarian government last year provided 1.7 billion forints in grants for the theatre’s renewal, allowing the Hungarian State Opera to renovate the Erkel Theatre to a standard suitable for holding performances.

Much of the refurbishments took place behind the scenes, with soloist and shared dressing rooms and common areas refitted and expanded. In addition, the stage’s technical equipment has undergone significant modernisation, while the building’s service systems (water, plumbing, heating and ventilation) have also been brought up to date.

Audiences will now step into an auditorium with a completely new look, while every effort was made to ensure that the building's fantastic acoustic properties remained unchanged. A factor that will greatly increase comfort is the modern ventilation system installed in the seating area. Although the number of seats has been reduced from 1,935 to 1,819 by refitting the rows of seats for more comfort, the theatre nevertheless retains its rank as the highest capacity theatre in Hungary – and in Eastern Central Europe.

Related events