1/ Thank you for reading my 1st thread on #DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES. This one will feature passages from the play that did not make it into the opera (opera composers always have to cut) but which illustrate important spiritual themes in both.
2/ Blanche is at her first interview with Mme. de Croissy, the Old Prioress. The OP says:
"Poor child. You've dreamed of this house the way a frightened child, just put to bed by the servants, dreams in her dark bedroom of the drawing room, of its light, of its heat. You know
3/ nothing of the solitude in which a true religious is exposed to live or die." A few lines later (and this IS in the opera):
BLANCHE: What does it matter, if God gives me strength?
OP: What He will test in you is not your strength but your weakness.

(I remember so well Crespin
4/ as Croissy and how she sang this line in English: "...not yeuhr strensss but yeuhr WIKnesss!" Btw tonight's performance is in French, w subtitles. @MetOpera has done this opera both ways.)

Shortly thereafter, Mme. de Croissy is dying. Mother Marie of the Incarnation keeps
5/ her company. She is in for a difficult "passage." The doctor finds this surprising. Mother Marie has this dialogue with him:
MM: If you had longer experience with houses like this, you would know there are only two sorts of religious who die altogether peacefully: the very
6/ holy, and the mediocre.
DOCTOR: I would have thought that the Faith -
MM: It is not the Faith that reassures, but Love. And when the Bridegroom himself approaches us for the sacrifice, as Abraham did to Isaac, one would have to be very perfect or else very stupid not to
7/ sense trouble.
DOCTOR: Forgive me, I thought that in a House of Peace -
MM: Ours is not a House of Peace, sir, it is a House of Prayer. ...
Later, the Old Prioress discusses w Mother Marie the name Blanche has chosen.
MM: Yes, she still wishes to be called Sr. Blanche of
8/ the Agony of Christ. You have always seemed to me quite struck by this choice?
OP: That's because it was my own, long ago. Our Prioress in those days was Mme. Arnoult, she was eighty years old. She said to me: "Question your strength. Who enters Gethsemane does not
9/ come out again. Do you feel in you the courage to remain to the end the prisoner of the Most Holy Agony?" I was the one who introduced Sr. Blanche of the Agony of Christ to this house. This is my affair.... Of all my daughters, none gives me more concern. I had thought to
10/ recommend her to your charity, but, upon reflection, and if God wills, this will be my last act as Prioress - Mother Marie!
MM: My Reverend Mother?
OP: It is in the name of obedience that I remit Blanche de la Force to you. You will answer for her to me before God.
11/ Actually that last bit *is* in the opera - with a spectacular octave leap on the words "devant Dieu," such that old sopranos and mezzos who come out of retirement to do this role still have to have their upper-range chops!
Sr. Constance, an apparent flibbertigibbet whose brain occasionally stops whirling and lights on a profound thought, tells Sr. Blanche that she thinks the Old Prioress "died someone else's death." "That means that that other one, when the hour of death comes, will astonish
12/ herself by entering it easily, and feeling herself comfortable in it."
The New Prioress is Mme. Lidoine, and in her first speech as Prioress she says:
"What the era in which we live will amount to, I have no idea. I ask only of Holy Providence those modest virtues
13/ that the rich and powerful willingly hold in contempt: good will, patience, spirit of conciliation....There are different kinds of courage, and that of the great ones of the earth is not that of little people; it would allow them to survive....I repeat that we are poor girls
14/ assembled to pray to God. Let us beware of everything that could turn us away from prayer - and that includes the hope of martyrdom. Prayer is a duty: martyrdom is a reward. If a great King, in front of all his court, were to signal to the serving-girl to come sit with him
15/ on his throne, just like a well-beloved wife, it would be better for her at first not even to believe her eyes or her ears, and to get on with dusting the furniture."
16/ In the end it's Mother Marie - one of the aristocrats, preoccupied with honor - who is left off the list of the condemned. In the penultimate scene, when the chaplain informs her of this, she says (and Poulenc opted not to set this):
MM: I am dishonored!
CHAPLAIN: That's the
17/ word I was waiting for. This, for you, is the cry of nature against agonly. This, yes this, is the blood God is asking of you, and which you will have to pour out. You would have given with joy what flows in your veins, you would have poured it out like water. But every drop
18/ of *this* blood tears out more than your life.

Then the last scene: the Carmelites go up the steps to the guillotine one by one, singing "Salve regina," losing one voice with each fall of the blade - and these are deliberately off rhythm, so unless you're the techie
19/ operating the guillotine-noise machine (I've read various theories on how this is done), you don't know when to expect them, so each one comes as a shock.

At the last minute, Blanche, having found unexpected courage, joins them.

I've written these up so it's not *just*
20/ oh, yeah, martyrs, and how impressive that last scene is, but the internal path that various of them take - incl. the Old Prioress, who gets her Calvary early. That's why the retelling of their story started not with "the song at the scaffold" but "the last at the scaffold" -
21/ the last being Blanche, the timorous one. /fin

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More from @david_m_wagner

20 Nov
1/ Bc #DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES is coming up in about 2 hrs (available all night & thru tmrw pm), a few notes about it. As you know, it's the true story of the martyrdom of the Carmel of Compiegne in 1794, at the peak of the Terror. One nun was not condemned; her notes became
2/ the basis for a novel by Gertrud von le Fort called La dernière à l’échafaud, meaning The Last at the Scaffold, usually mistranslated as The Song at..., which captures fact that they sang hymns on their way to death, but misses the drama of the invented character Blanche de la
3/ Force and her struggle with fear. The 1930s French novelist & playwright Georges Bernanos worked on turning this into a screenplay: he completed much of it, including the end, but there a still some unfinished scenes. I read somewhere that he hadn’t even given it a name
Read 8 tweets
20 Nov
1/ Hey it’s TRAVIATA - one of those staples for which no fan wd use the def article, tho it has one. One doesn’t even ask whom one saw in TRAVIATA: one might say, did you ever see her Violetta (usually meaning Callas, but for me, Pat Brooks), his Alfredo, Merrill’s Germany, etc.
2/ It’s “The Lady of the Camelias,” the courtesan who finds true love but not in time to stave off TB. For years, fans @MetOpera loved the Zeffirelli production; then they got rid of that in favor of an austere gray setting with a huge clock by way of ham-handed symbolism.
3/ Fans stayed away in droves, which you can’t afford to let happen with TRAV, so they moved on to this production, which is elaborately colorful (tho based on a unit set). They even set the action back 50 or 100 years, from 2nd Empire to something that looks somehere betw
Read 10 tweets
18 Nov
1/ In NY: “Dad, I went to the Met and saw RUSALKA.” “How was Renée?” “Awesome!”
In Old Czechia: “Dad, I was walking by the lake and I saw a rusalka!” “Stay away from them, son, they’re dangerous!”
In Dvorak’s opera they are dangerous, but innocently so, and to themselves a/w/a to
2/ the men they love. And it’s a proper name. Our heroine is a sweetly-pie who sings this opera’s Act I show-stopper, the Song to the Moon, asking it to guide her to her honeybun. And indeed the Prince comes along and whisks her off to the palace.
3/ Also involved are her father the Water Gnome, clearly a charter member of Dads Against Daughters Dating, and the witch Jezibaba, remarkably like Ursula the Sea Witch, bc yes, we’ve got here a permutation of the Little Mermaid legend.
Read 7 tweets
18 Nov
1/ Heard the one about the guy who was so selfless, when he died, someone else’s life passed b4 his eyes? Well that cd never have been Faust, but in this production, you cd say there does pass b4 his eyes the life he wd have had if... and btw it’s not a very honorable life. But
2/ something has to be done to pass current thru this ever-popular staple. FAUST was the 1st opera ever done @MetOpera. In the opening scene of Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” we’re at a performance of it the Academy of Music - NY’s hoity-toity opera co. that was eventually
3/ supplanted by the Met, and Wharton takes us on a tour of what’s going thru Newland Archer’s mind as he watches May Welland watching the Garden Scene. Alas, nothing will supplant Gounod’s sugar-tuned work as the most popular operatization of Goethe’s “Faust,” even tho the
Read 6 tweets
12 Nov
1/ Alban Berg was1st to bring Schoenberg's theories of atonalism and the 12-tone row into opera, choosing unsettling subjects to go with this unsettling new style. First came WOZZECK, and, ngl, I feel comfortable in WOZZECK's dramaturgy, "sound world" (overused term), and, yes,
2/ even its leitmotivic structure. LULU still presents more of a problem for me. I find a words-notes fit in WOZZECK that I don't find in LULU. To quote my own witticism, "LULU is WOZZECK w/o all the likeable characters." Be that as it may, Berg achieved acceptance for his style
3/ in a way that certain more recent experimentalists have not. LULU is about a young woman who is either the ultimate femme fatale, as she's often called, or the ultimate feminine blank slate, from nowhere, of unknown parentage, not even of any certain name, but in whom all men,
Read 5 tweets
11 Nov
1/ FANCIULLA had its world premiere at the Met, and it represents the extension of Puccini's usual style - "verismo," real ppl in real settings - to the American West. Minnie is an innocent girl who keeps a saloon in CA in 1850. If that seems unrealistic, at least note that
2/NY audiences had gotten used to it with the success of the play by David Belasco, on which Puccini based the opera. It appears Minnie's parents were pre-Gold Rush Anglo immigrants to California. From them she inherited the saloon and the Bible, and to a passel of homesick 49ers
3/ she's both barkeep and Bible teacher. She articulates the opera's theme during the Bible lesson scene in Act 1:
"What's hyssop, Minnie?"
"It's a plant that grows in the East, Joe."
"Does it grow out here?"
"Yes, Joe - it grows in your heart, in the heart of everyone who seeks
Read 10 tweets

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