Just outside Paris, 1789: The French Revolution is in full force. Arriving home safely despite the mobs in the streets, a young noblewoman, Blanche de la Force, is frightened by a footman. Interpreting the events of the day as a sign, she tells her father that she intends to become a nun. When she enters the Carmelite convent at Compiègne, the elderly and infirm Prioress warns Blanche that difficult ordeals await her. After Blanche is admitted to the convent, Sister Constance, another young novice, shocks her by suggesting they offer up their lives for that of the Prioress. Constance also tells Blanche that she has had a premonition that the two of them will die together.
The Prioress, on her deathbed, entrusts Blanche to the care of Mother Marie. In her final moments, the Prioress has a vision of their chapel desecrated, with straw and blood on the ground. As she continues to cry out, delirious, she demands an audience with Blanche, who witnesses the older nun's final, terror-filled moments.
Sister Constance suggests to Blanche that the late Prioress was given the wrong death by mistake, one meant for someone else, who will now have an easy death. A new Prioress arrives and greets the nuns and reminds them that their most important duty is prayer.
Intermission (20 minutes)
Blanche's brother tries to convince her to leave the convent for her own safety; she refuses. The sisters' Chaplain tells them he has been forbidden to perform his duties and will go into hiding. Mother Marie suggests that an act of martyrdom by the sisters will make France safe for priests again; the new Prioress rebukes her, telling her God alone will decide. Two commissioners arrive, backed by a mob, to inform the nuns that the convent will be seized and put up for sale.
While the Prioress is away, Mother Marie proposes to the community that they take a collective vow of martyrdom in order to save their order and their country. A secret vote is taken, with all but one in favor. Sister Constance tells the group it was her vote and she has changed her mind. Blanche flees. Mother Marie finds Blanche, who is living as a servant in her family's ruined home, and gives her an address where she can safely hide. Meanwhile, all of the nuns except Blanche and Mother Marie are imprisoned and condemned to death. The sisters sing defiantly as they go to the guillotine, one by one. Constance is the last to ascend the scaffold; as she pauses, Blanche, making her way through the crowd, catches her eye. Constance continues and Blanche follows.
Major support for WNO is provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars.
David and Alice Rubenstein are the Presenting Underwriters of WNO.
General Dynamics is the proud sponsor of WNO's 2014-2015 Season.
WNO acknowledges the longstanding generosity of
Life Chairman Mrs. Eugene B. Casey.
Additional support for Dialogues of the Carmelites is provided by an award from the
National Endowment for the Arts.
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