The final premiere at the Hungarian State Opera in the year 2016 is a piece that has never been performed at the Budapest Opera. Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc is put on stage by artistic director Ferenc Anger with musical direction by internationally renowned conductor Christian Badea.
A member of the famous French “Les Six”, Francis Poulenc wrote his second opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, as a serious work, to the great surprise of the audience. Poulenc had previously been known as a farceur who composed neo-classical works with an ironic and comical tone. In the 1930s, however, the composer lost two close friends, and only faith could help him out of his deep mourning and depression. Therefore it was not surprising that when the Ricordi publishing house commissioned him to compose a new opera, he turned to a story about the strength of faith, the relationship between the state and religion, and death.
The opera was composed to Georges Bernanos’s play, which in turn was based on German writer Gertrude von Le Fort’s novella Die Letzte am Schafott (The Last One at the Scaffold). Le Fort wrote her novella in Germany in 1933, as the fascist hold on power was gaining strength. The source of her work was the true story of the martyrs of Compiegne: during the French Revolution, the terreur and the Jacobin dictatorship’s antagonism toward the Church resulted in the execution of sixteen Carmelite nuns in Paris on 17 July 1794. Their hair shorn and singing the Veni, Creator Spiritus, the sisters each took their places under the guillotine. (The dictatorship came to an end exactly ten days later, with Robespierre himself being decapitated.)
At the centre of the story stands a young aristocratic girl, Blanche de la Force, who is driven by fear to flee to the convent. Through her struggles, the composer shows the trial of faith in a work whose finale is perhaps both the most fantastic and the most shocking in the operatic literature.