The intense story with dramatic themes, setting in black and white, brilliant minimalistic decor and overwhelming music, the opera Dialogues des Carmélites touched me deeply.
The perks of having a friend work for the custume department of De Nationale Opera, is me seeing a lot of final rehearsels. But this was the first time that a story grabbed me by the throat and made me emontional. The story of Blanche.
What’s the (non’s) story?
Paris, 1789 during the French Revolution. Blanche, a beautiful young aristocratic woman, is afraid for the outside world and asks her wealthy father permission to enter the Carmelite convent to become a nun. There, the Mother Superior reminds her that a cloister is not a refuge for the revolution. Blanche understands but stays.
When her brother comes to the convent to bid his sister farewell before fleeing the country, he presses Blanche to come along. Both he and his father, the marquis, fear for her life which isn’t safe in the convent. Blanche refused.
When the convent is nationalized by the police, the sisters are expelled from their place. In the ruins of the cloister chapel, the nuns take a vow of martyrdom.
At that moment Blanche does flee home, she discovers that her father is killed by the guillotine. She is forced to work as a maid for their former servants.
Meanwhile the nuns are arrested and sentenced to death. The Carmelites mount the scaffold one by one, chanting a prayer as they go. Blanche, who was hidden in the crowd, steps out and joins the procession, taking up the chant. She is the last to lay her head on the guillotine.
Dialogues des Carmélites, The Music
With limited resources, Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) succeeds in Dialogues des Carmélites in stirring deep emotions. His powerful musical language is perfectly interpreted by director Robert Carsen in a strong visual spectacle filled with dramatic power of expression.
I was impressed by the emotional movements of the musical director Stéphane Denève, and of course by Sally Matthews who performed the leading role of Blanche. That voice!
This story is about religion and self-sacrifice, still an actual theme. Watching this opera made me understand more about the power of religion.
When Blanche puts loyalty to the nuns above herself and joins the procession to death in the closing scene, the intense combination of music, lyrics and decor is so overwhelming, I am sure I was not the only one moved to tears. _AW
De Nationale Opera until November, 29th. © photos - Hans van den Boogaard