DIALOGUE OF THE CARMELITES
SAN FRANCISCO, CA-- Written in l956-57, Dialogue of the Carmelites is one of the greatest operas of the 20th Century. The music of the three-act opera was written by French Composer of Musica Sacra (Church's music) Francis Poulenc. Its libretto, based on a play, by Louis Émil Clément George Bernanos, a soldier and Catholic writer who wrote his play based on his monastic knowledge and in historical writings which described the TERROR YEARS in France and its religious Martyrs, when prior to the French Revolution in l789, mobs in the streets, guillotined their French nobility and their priests and nuns, with the purpose to steal their, homes, the land of their monasteries, and all their belongings.
The opera starts with the words: "where is Blanche?" as Chevalier (Ben Gliss) the young son of the Marquis de la Force (Dale Travis) (pictured above) utters to his father entering their Mansion's living room. In a short sang dialogue, we learn that the reason Chevalier is so concern about his sister is that he was informed that his sister carriage was surrounded by a mob this morning when she went to mass, and she has not returned yet. He also tells his father that Blanche is not well. That she is depressed, very shy, and as fearful as a rabbit.
She is accepted and the first thing she learns from Madame de Croissi, (Michaela Schuster) the dying mother superior, is that a Convent is not a place to hide, or spect to be pampered from our weaknesses.
The second act, of the opera may be consider didactic. because in the short sang-dialogues, among the Mother superior and the nuns, and the nuns talking with each other, we hear bits of wisdom which may help us understand how difficult it must be to be to live for person who renounced the world to live in poverty, needs to obey orders, pray, sacrifice herself, and deny herself of every thing that we take for granted, to be sustained, strengthened only by their faith. At the end of the act, however, we wonder, because when facing her own death, Madame de Croissi, the nuns mother Superior, seems to be fearful,
In Act III After the convent has been disbanded the nuns basically need to fend for themselves. Fearful Blanche abandons their group (who has moved to a home in Paris, and runs back to her now dilapidated home where someone else is now living (after his father was killed) and works for them disguised as maid. But at the end, demonstrates that all those years of Bible studies and faith-building concepts managed to heal her weak character and strengthened her.
Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ can no longer continue hiding, because she is now a changed person. Strengthened by faith, she stopped comparing herself with a fearful Rabbit. All those years at the convent, hearing the promises of God, built character in her. If all her sisters in the convent were convicted to death, she now has courage to accept the same destiny.
In presentation, the San Francisco Opera Production of Dialogue of the Carmelites sang in French, with Caroline H. Hume Music Director Euin Sun Kim directing the orchestra, and Daniel Izzo directing the production, in music, acting, singing and visually, was superb. the quality of the tone of voice of each one of the principal singers was unique. Beautiful also in the productions are the choirs. And the staging is creative.
In the singing principal singing roles, the of Marquis de la Force was sung by Bass Baritone Dale Davis, the role of his son, Chevalier de la Force was sung by Ben Bliss. the role of Blanche, by soprano Heidi Slober, and Michaele Schuster played the role of Mother Marie, Michelle Bradley the role of Madame Lidoine and Deanna Breiwick made her San Francisco Opera Debut as Sister Constance on opening night.
We will end this article by adding something about the structure of DIALOGUE OF THE CARMELITES starting with its theme, which is religious, and it setting, inside a nuns convent located in Compiegne, France. Interesting also is that the motivation (what moves the action) in this opera is fear, and that instead of a love story of a man and a woman willing to die for each other, the great LOVE (a requisite in all operas) in this work, is represented by the communal LOVE for God of a group of Nuns who are willing to die for Him.
And when most operas have long arias, this opera has very few long arias, and moves like a play, in short sang dialogues among the characters. But the most important thing to mention, about this work, however, is that when watching it we know that its plot is based in reality. What we are looking, represented on the stage, really happened. These characters, at one time, were nuns who die as Catholic Martyrs. Because of it, DIALOGUE OF THE CARMELITES is unique.