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The chateau of the Marquis de la Force, just before the French Revolution
The Chevalier de la Force fears for the safety of his sensitive sister, Blanche, whose carriage has been seen surrounded by an angry mob. Blanche arrives safely home, but informs her father, the Marquis, that she has decided to become a nun. The outside world is a frightening place in which she can no longer live.
The Carmelite convent
Sister Blanche is interviewed by the old Prioress, who tells her that as a member of the order, God will test her weaknesses, not her strengths.
Accepted into the order, Sister Blanche meets the lively and chatty Sister Constance, who has a premonition that they will die together some day.
The old Prioress is dying. She tells Mother Marie, the assistant Prioress, that she worries about Blanche, the newest of their order. Sister Blanche is brought to the Prioress who has a vision of their chapel desecrated and expresses the belief that God has forsaken their order. Delirious and in pain, she dies.
While kneeling in vigil for the old Prioress, Sister Blanche becomes frightened and tries to run away. She is scolded and forgiven by Mother Marie.
Sister Constance remarks to Sister Blanche that the death of the Prioress was surprisingly painful for one so strong and pious. Perhaps her struggle might make it possible for a person less secure in faith to experience an easier death.
The new Prioress advises the nuns that their future is uncertain.
Blanche’s brother comes to persuade her to return to the safety of the family home but she refuses.
At mass, the Father Confessor says that he must go into hiding. Two officials of the Revolutionary Government then arrive with a decree that the convent must disband.
Mother Marie suggests that all the nuns should suffer martyrdom rather than dissolve their order. A secret vote is taken, and there is one dissenting ballot, which belongs to Blanche. Sister Constance claims that the opposing vote was hers and asks to change her decision, so that the proposal can be unanimously accepted by the nuns. Overcome by fear, Blanche flees from the convent.
The nuns are told they can live as free citizens as long as they leave their rituals and community behind them.
Mother Marie visits Blanche, who is living disguised as a servant in her family’s chateau. Her father has been executed by revolutionaries who have taken over the house. Mother Marie urges her to return to her sisters, but she refuses.
Arrested and in prison, the nuns are comforted by the Prioress as they await martyrdom. A guard reads the decree sentencing them all to death.
In the street
Mother Marie has found the Father Confessor, expressing her guilt at not sharing martyrdom with her sisters.
At the scaffold
When the nuns are led to the guillotine, Sister Constance sees Blanche in the crowd. As the nuns are executed one by one, Blanche takes her place on the scaffold and dies with them.
Photo: A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Dialogues des Carmélites, 2013. Photo by Michael Cooper
Generously underwritten in part by Tim and Frances Price.
Additional support from:
Cecily and Robert Bradshaw; Nani and Austin Beutel; Walter M. and Lisa Balfour Bowen; Michael and Linda Hutcheon; Judy & Wilmot Matthews; Don McQueen and Trina McQueen O.C; Sue Mortimer; Colleen Sexsmith; Dr. Noëlle Grace and The Shohet Family; Samara Walbohm and Joe Shlesinger; Rosemary Speirs; Anonymous.