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By the last scene of Act 1 the prioress is on her deathbed. Blanche, the latest recruit to the order, is shown special favour and receives the dying thoughts of her superior. Poulenc manages all the tenderness for such a scene and without mawkishness [watch and listen -- chapter 20, 47:43-49:35]. Soon enough she and Laura Aikin's Sister Constance are arranging the floral tributes for the grave of the dead prioress. In their quiet devotion there is no hint of the crisis both will soon have to face [watch and listen -- chapter 27, 64:56-65:55]. When the moment of supreme choice comes, Constance votes against martyrdom, and Blanche makes a final visit to a home now vandalised by the mob.

The final scene of 'Dialogues des Carmélites'. Screenshot © 2004 RAI Trade
The final scene of 'Dialogues des Carmélites'. Screenshot © 2004 RAI Trade

At the end of Act 2, the Parisian crowd and a band of soldiers surround the convent. The father confessor of Mario Bolognesi is in attendance and knows he has only moments to escape. For the nuns there is no escape [watch and listen -- chapter 40, 95:29-96:27]. The doors are battered down and the women rounded up. A trial is hardly necessary, as the sentence of execution will be automatic, as administered by the revolutionary tribunal. The prelude to the last scene, the only moment when Poulenc distorts his normal wisdom to attempt some Stravinsky mannerisms, begins as the nuns bestir themselves for their final day in this world [watch and listen -- chapter 55, 133:56-134:36].

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Copyright © 2 January 2008 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


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