Opera at the Threshold of a Revolution: Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-1956)

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Francis Poulenc’s three-act opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-1956) depicts the struggles of the novice nun Blanche de la Force during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The use of Latin liturgical music at critical points in the opera conveys the ritualistic nature of Catholic worship. The spiritual message of mystical substitution, along with the closely related notion of vicarious suffering, imbue the opera with a spirituality that offers a sharp contrast to earlier operatic settings of Catholic texts, particularly during the age of grand opera. Marian devotion also plays an important role in the opera. The final tableau ... continued below

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Beard, Cynthia C. December 2011.

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  • Beard, Cynthia C.

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Francis Poulenc’s three-act opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-1956) depicts the struggles of the novice nun Blanche de la Force during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The use of Latin liturgical music at critical points in the opera conveys the ritualistic nature of Catholic worship. The spiritual message of mystical substitution, along with the closely related notion of vicarious suffering, imbue the opera with a spirituality that offers a sharp contrast to earlier operatic settings of Catholic texts, particularly during the age of grand opera. Marian devotion also plays an important role in the opera. The final tableau of the opera stages the execution of Blanche and her sisters, complete with the sound of a guillotine, with the nuns singing the Salve Regina as they proceed to the scaffold. The multivalence of the final tableau highlights the importance of voice and its absence. While the nuns, onstage spectators, and the guillotine are audibly present in the scene, the priest participates solely through gesture. The surfacing of the Lacanian Real in the silent moment of traumatic shock that follows the guillotine’s first fall allows for intertextual references to the opera in Poulenc’s Sonate pour Flûte et Piano (1957) to function as a work of remembrance.

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  • December 2011

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  • Oct. 2, 2012, 4:18 p.m.

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Beard, Cynthia C. Opera at the Threshold of a Revolution: Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-1956), dissertation, December 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc103288/: accessed November 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .