Metropolitan Opera Broadcast: Dialogues des Carmélites 

Broadcast of Saturday, May 4, 11:30 A.M.

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As the Chaplain (Jonathan Welch) listens, Mother Marie (Stephanie Blythe) speaks to the Carmelites in the chapel
© Beatriz Schiller 2013
The 2012–13 Metropolitan Opera broadcast season is sponsored by 
Toll Brothers, America's luxury home builder®, with generous long-term support from 
The Annenberg Foundation, The Neubauer Family Foundation,
the Vincent A. Stabile Endowment for Broadcast Media,
and through contributions from listeners worldwide.

Dialogues des Carmélites

Music by Francis Poulenc 
Libretto after Georges Bernanos's dramatization of the novella
by Gertrud von le Fort 
THE CAST     (in order of vocal appearance)
Chevalier     tenor, PAUL APPLEBY
Marquis     bass-bar., DAVID PITTSINGER
Blanche     mezzo-soprano, ISABEL LEONARD
Thierry     tenor, KEITH JAMESON
Mme. de Croissy     mezzo, FELICITY PALMER
Constance     soprano, ERIN MORLEY
Mother Marie     mezzo, ELIZABETH BISHOP
Javelinot     bass, PAUL CORONA
Mme. Lidoine     sop., PATRICIA RACETTE
Chaplain     tenor, MARK SCHOWALTER
Sister Mathilde     mezzo, MARY ANN McCORMICK
Commissioners { tenor, SCOTT SCULLY
Mother Jeanne     mezzo, JANE SHAULIS
Jailer     bass-baritone, PATRICK CARFIZZI

Conducted by LOUIS LANGRÉE

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Production: John Dexter
Set designer: David Reppa
Costume designer: Jane Greenwood
Lighting designer: Gil Wechsler
Stage director: David Kneuss
Chorus master: Donald Palumbo
Musical preparation: Joan Dornemann,
     Donna Racik, Steven Eldredge,
     Bradley Moore, Pierre Vallet
Assistant stage director: Sarah Ina Meyers
Prompter: Donna Racik

Production a gift of Francis Goelet
THE SCENES   Timings (ET)
ACT I   11:30–1:02
     Sc. 1 Library of the Marquis   
     Sc. 2 The convent  
     Sc. 3 Workroom of the convent  
     Sc. 4 The infirmary  
     Sc. 5 The chapel  
     Sc. 6 The chapter room  
ACT II   1:30–2:46
     Sc. 1 The parlor  
     Sc. 2 The sacristy  
     Sc. 3 The chapel  
     Sc. 4 Library of the Marquis  
     Sc. 5 The Conciergerie  
     Sc. 6 Place de la Révolution  

Host: Margaret Juntwait
Commentator: Ira Siff
Music producer: Jay David Saks
Producers: Mary Jo Heath, Ellen Keel,
     William Berger
Executive producers: Mia Bongiovanni,
     Elena Park

For more information on the broadcasts,
     please visit

Send quiz questions to:
     Metropolitan Opera Quiz, Metropolitan Opera,
     30 Lincoln Center, New York, NY 10023,
     or e-mail

This performance is also being broadcast live on
     Metropolitan Opera Radio on SiriusXM channel 74.


ACT I. In his library, the Marquis de la Force talks worriedly with his son, the Chevalier, about Blanche, his impressionable daughter, who is unable to overcome her fear of life. She suddenly appears, frightened by hostile crowds that surrounded her carriage on her way home. After retiring, Blanche returns, having been terrified by a servant's shadow, and announces her wish to become a nun.

Several weeks later, at the Carmelite convent at Compiègne, Blanche comes for an interview with the prioress, Mme. de Croissy, a woman debilitated by illness. Gently but firmly the prioress makes it clear to Blanche that the convent is a house of prayer, not a refuge in which heroism is facilitated: it will test her weaknesses, not her strengths.

While doing their chores in the convent workroom, Blanche and Constance, a lively novice, discuss death. Constance believes she will die young and that Blanche will die with her. Blanche angrily accuses Constance of evil thoughts.

In the infirmary, the prioress lies on her deathbed. Her struggle to appear calm slowly fails as the anxiety of her condition overtakes her: years of meditating on death have not made the actuality less frightening. Mother Marie accepts charge of Blanche from the prioress, who advises firmness, judgment and character — qualities she says Blanche lacks. When Blanche comes, the prioress tells the girl of her special concern for her as the newest member of their order. Saying farewell, she offers her own death to avert the dangers facing Blanche. A physician comes and goes. The prioress grows delirious, relating a fitful vision of their convent desecrated. In a last attempt to confess her fear of death, she falls back lifeless. Blanche kneels, sobbing.

In the chapel, where the prioress lies in state, Blanche and Constance intone a prayer. When Constance leaves, Blanche attempts a prayer but flees in fear. She is stopped by Mother Marie, who gently rebukes but reassures her.

Constance explains to Blanche that the prioress died another person's death, that her death was too ugly and hard for her. Someone else, she says, will be surprised to find death so easy.

In the chapter room, the ceremony of obedience to the new prioress is coming to an end. The appointee, Mme. Lidoine, addresses the nuns, counseling patience and humility, warning of the temptation of easy martyrdom. Mother Marie leads the prayer. 

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The Carmelites at the Place de la Révolution, in the final moments before their execution
© Beatriz Schiller 2013

ACT II. The Chevalier visits Blanche before escaping abroad, asking that she return and stand by their father, who is now alone. Blanche brusquely refuses, explaining that her highest duty is to the convent that has changed her life. Later, Blanche regrets her outburst, but Mother Marie reassures her that the motive behind her pride will give her strength.

Autumn 1792. The Chaplain, banned from his clerical duties, performs a last Mass; the nuns sing an Ave Verum Corpus. Mme. Lidoine observes that when there is a shortage of priests, there is an abundance of martyrs, whereupon Mother Marie suggests the Carmelites offer their own lives. But Mme. Lidoine replies that martyrs are chosen only by God's will. An angry mob storms the convent, and a Commissioner reads a decree evicting and dissolving the order. Shaken by the shouts of the crowd, Blanche drops and breaks the convent's figurine of the Christ child.

While the new prioress is away in Paris, Mother Marie again suggests the Carmelites take a vow of martyrdom. A secret ballot reveals one dissenter. Though the nuns suspect Blanche, Constance confesses and reverses the vote, taking the vow with Blanche, who then runs off.

Working as a servant in the Marquis's ruined library, Blanche is sought out by Mother Marie, who urges her to return to the order, but Blanche insists on staying where she will be safer, revealing that her father has been guillotined.

In a street near the Bastille, Blanche learns from an old woman from Compiègne that the nuns have been arrested. 

At daybreak in prison, the nuns' death sentence is read. The prioress puts them under a final oath of obedience. Though the others laugh, Constance has dreamed that Blanche will return.

Meeting the Chaplain, Mother Marie learns of her sisters' condemnation: they are to die immediately. She despairs at not being with them.

In the Place de la Révolution, the Carmelites advance to the scaffold, led by Mme. Lidoine, singing the Salve Regina as an eager mob murmurs. The Chaplain, in plain clothes at the front of the crowd, secretly gives each nun absolution as she passes. Constance, last in line, is radiant when she sees Blanche emerge from the throng to join her sisters in death. One by one, the voices of the Carmelites are cut short by the stroke of the guillotine. The crowd disperses wordlessly. 

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Mme. de Croissy (Felicity Palmer) experiences the agony of death as Blanche (Racette) watches
© Beth Bergman 2013


In 1953, Milan's Ricordi publishing house requested a ballet from Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) on the life of St. Margaret of Cortona. Poulenc was attracted to the mystical subject but wanted to write an opera, so Ricordi suggested a text, based on an actual incident, by Georges Bernanos (1888–1948), a French Catholic monarchist preoccupied with ethics, religion, history and politics. From it, Poulenc fashioned his libretto; he completed Dialogues des Carmélites in 1956.

Drawn to the spirituality of Dialogues, Poulenc became ill and morose during its composition. Three liturgical settings form the backbone of the opera. The composer's characteristic musical sensuality, so comical in his first opera, Les Mamelles de Tirésias, so tormented in his third and last, La Voix Humaine, is transformed into the pure spiritual ecstasy of the nuns' gradual resolve. The orchestration is spare but forceful, often organ-like in sonority. The vocal writing, based on speech, contrasts lyrical arioso (Blanche) with strict declamation (Croissy).

Dialogues des Carmélites was first performed at La Scala, Milan, on January 26, 1957, in Italian, with Virginia Zeani, Leyla Gencer and Gianna Pederzini. The French premiere at the Paris Opéra in 1957 featured Denise Duval, Régine Crespin and Denise Scharley. San Francisco saw the American premiere that fall, in English, with Dorothy Kirsten, Leontyne Price and Claramae Turner. The current Met production, directed by John Dexter, was introduced on February 5, 1977 with Maria Ewing, Shirley Verrett and Régine Crespin.

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Patricia Racette as Blanche in Dialogues des
at the Metropolitan Opera

© Beatriz Schiller 2013
Benjamin Ivry's sympathetic Francis Poulenc (Phaidon) is difficult to find, but worth looking for; Wilfrid Mellers's Francis Poulenc (Oxford) is an excellent introduction to the composer, examining Poulenc's life and music in the context of his era. Carl B. Schmidt's Entrancing Muse (Pendragon) is rich in detail.

On CD, the 1958 Pierre Dervaux recording (EMI), featuring the principals of the opera's French premiere, is hors concours; Denise Scharley (de Croissy), Régine Crespin (Lidoine), Rita Gorr (Marie) and Denise Duval (Blanche) defined their roles for more a generation. Almost as persuasive is Kent Nagano's luminous Lyon Opera performance from 1992 (Virgin), also sung in French, as is Bertrand de Billy's excellent 2011 recording with the forces of the Vienna Radio Symphony, based on performances at the Theater an der Wien (Oehms). The English-language performance of choice is Paul Daniel's sensitive yet dramatically charged reading with the English National Opera Orchestra (Chandos).

On DVD, the best available performance is Robert Carsen's stunning staging, filmed at La Scala with Riccardo Muti conducting. Nagano leads the Bayerische Staatsoper in Dmitri Tcherniakov's wildly unconventional production (Bel Air), which will not please traditionalists despite its many musical virtues. spacer 

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