Dialogues des Carmélites - Synopsis

Dialogues des Carmélites: Sally Matthews Dialogues des Carmélites: Sally Matthews, Sylvie Brunet, Ensemble Dialogues des Carmélites. Solisten, Chor und Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Dialogues des Carmélites

Francis Poulenc
Francis Poulenc after Georges Bernanos

 

Part One

Blanche de la Force suffers dreadfully from panic attacks but is unable to find solace and understanding anywhere – not even in the bosom of her own family. Her father, Marquis de la Force, and her brother, Chevalier de la Force, treat her as if she were a weak child devoid of any abilities whatsoever. Blanche decides to renounce this world and find solace and salvation for herself in the strict seclusion of a Carmelite convent.

Blanche has a long conversation with the old prioress, Madame de Croissy. She finds a new family among the nuns of the Carmelite community, the old prioress takes the place of a mother in her life, and the community becomes her refuge. Every one of the nuns has joined the Carmelite order at some point in order to protect themselves from the problems of the world and find a way to salvation. Blanche is full of illusions and works hard to be accepted by her fellow nuns, overcome her own fears and cope with all the tests. Constance, who is also new to the community, is fond of Blanche and senses that she needs support and sympathy.

After a serious illness the old prioress dies a gruesome death. The loss of Madame de Croissy affects Blanche deeply, making it clear to her that the Carmelite order cannot become a fortress against fear for anyone. The old prioress, gravely ill, fails to pass this final test of facing death with courage. Agony overcomes her in a most degrading way.

Without the support of the prioress, who was so concerned for the state of their souls, the nuns are afraid of their fate and the uncertainty of the future. Blanche no longer feels secure. Mother Marie hopes to be chosen to be the next prioress. She is certain that she knows which path the community should now follow. However, Madame Lidoine is chosen to be the new prioress. She has completely different moral concepts.

 

Part Two

Blanche’s brother arrives unexpectedly at the convent. He hopes to be able to persuade Blanche to give up the idea of a life in seclusion and return home. The Chevalier tries everything to shake his sister’s steadfastness, soothing words, pleas, threats, and even describes the illness of her unhappy father. Painful though it is for Blanche, she also survives this test and remains in the convent.
However, the world outside the convent intrudes on the security of this community from an unexpected direction. Their father confessor, their only link with the outside world, is suddenly removed from his offi ce within the church and is, as a result, morally dejected. The surprise appearance of the commissars confuses and frightens the community. Mother Marie calls on all of them to remain steadfast in their resistance. But even within the Carmelite community there is no unity.

When Madame Lidoine is forced to leave the community for a short time, Mother Marie uses the opportunity to win the Carmelites over to the idea of taking a strict vow of martyrdom. She impresses the nuns with words about a danger threatening them from the outside world and the importance of salvation to such an extent that the vote on the vow is unanimous. Blanche, deeply moved by disappointment and fear, secretly leaves the community.
The order to clear the convent is implemented. The nuns are forced to leave their community. Mother Marie goes to fi nd Blanche, who is leading a miserable existence in the empty house of her dead father. Blanche learns of the mortal danger which threatens her fellow nuns, but Mother Marie fails to convince her to return to share the lot of the Carmelites.

The nuns want to preserve their refuge at all costs. As they see the outside world as an unavoidable danger for the existence of their convent, the Carmelites are prepared to die. Madame Lidoine, the new prioress, remains with them in order to strengthen their spirits. Mother Marie does not remain, however, she fails to find in herself the spiritual strength to accept death.

A huge crowd has gathered and the nuns are preparing to die as martyrs. At this point Blanche appears, she has conquered her fear. Freed from all doubts, she dares to try to prevent the catastrophe which is imminent. At the cost of her life she saves the Carmelite nuns.

Dmitri Tcherniakov