Dialogues des Carmélites (‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’)
- Jeremy Sams
(‘Dialogues of the Carmelites’)
Opera in three acts by Francis Poulenc to his own libretto after Georges Bernanos’ play; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 26 January 1957.
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. In 1931 their story was turned into a novel by the German Catholic convert Gertrude von Le Fort; the heroine Blanche de la Force was her invention. In 1947 the Austrian priest and French resistance fighter Father Brückberger devised a cinematic scenario on the subject and engaged the French novelist Georges Bernanos to write the dialogue. Just as Gertrude von Le Fort had written herself into her heroine (she named her ‘de la Force’), so Bernanos, then suffering from terminal cancer, concentrated on the crisis of faith of the dying Prioress (even giving her his precise age, 59) as well as exploring his own religious obsessions. His work was deemed uncinematic but it eventually surfaced as a stage play, in which form Poulenc saw it in the early 1950s. When Ricordi suggested it as an opera Poulenc seized the chance enthusiastically; but despite rapid composition (...