Monday, November 29, 2010

OPTIONAL ENRICHMENT: The French Revolution in Opera

Final Scene from Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites

Based on true events

According to Grove Music Online , the story of the Compiègne Carmelites was first told by one of their number, Mother Marie of the Incarnation of God, who survived the Terror and lived until 1836. The publication of her Relation led to the beatification of the nuns in 1906

Set during the French Revolution, the story centers upon Blanche, the daughter of the aristocratic Marquis de la Force. Fleeing the wrath of the rebels, Blanche takes refuge in a convent run by Carmelite nuns. Deciding to devote her life to God, Blanche willingly undergoes the rigors and disciplines of her new life--only to have that life, and the lives of all the other nuns, placed in jeopardy when the rebels catch up with her. The production is capped by the harrowing "martyrdom" finale, in which the voice of each nun is abruptly silenced, one after another, by the sound of the headsman's axe.

The nuns march to the scaffold, singing "Salve Regina." At the last minute, Blanche, who had earlier run away from the convent, appears, to Sister Constance’s joy; but as she mounts the scaffold, Blanche changes the hymn to "Deo patri sit gloria" (All praise be thine, O risen Lord).

Be sure to watch to the end, to see what happens as the crowd disperses.