Coproduction of Théâtre des Champs-Elysées / Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels
Duration: Two hours and 45 minutes including intermission
ACT I – Paris, April 1789
Scene i – The library of the Marquis de la Force
The Marquis de la Force and his son, the Chevalier, are worried about Blanche whose carriage has been held up by the mob on her way home. The Marquis remembers of the street riot in which he and his wife were caught. The following night his wife died giving premature birth to Blanche who has grown up over timid child. When Blanche arrives, she is anxious and frightened by a shadow of one of the servants. She tells her father that she has made up her mind to become a nun at the Carmelite convent at Compiegne.
Scene ii – The Parlor of the Carmelite Convent
Several weeks later at the Carmelites convent, the aged ailing prioress, Madame de Croissy, interviews Blanche and makes it clear that the convent is not a house of refuge but a house of prayer. She is touched by Blanche’s resolve to embrace her new life. Blanche tells her that should she be accepted, she would choose the name of Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ.
Scene iii – The workroom of the Convent
Blanche and the young sister Constance discuss their fear of death. Blanche admits her envy of her friend’s easygoing nature and scolds her good humor when the prioress is seriously ill. Constance tells Blanche that she is sure that they will both die young and on the same day.
Scene iv – The Infirmary
In the infirmary, Madame de Croissy is lying on her deathbed, feeling unprepared for her coming death despite a lifetime of meditation and prayer. She blesses Blanche and cosigns her as he youngest member of the order, to the care of Mother Marie. The prioress confesses her terror, foreseeing the chapel empty and desecrated. Mother Marie tries to keep the other nuns away but Blanche returns to the room just in time to see the prioress die in terror and despair.
Scene i – The Chapel
Constance and Blanche keep vigil by the prioress’ bier in the chapel. Blanche is overcome by fear and is about to run off when Mother Maire appears and tries to calm her. Constance hopes that Mother Marie will be the new prioress and wonders why the old prioress had to die in such an agonizing way. Perhaps, she says, people don’t die for themselves but for others and someone else will be surprised one day to find death easy.
Scene ii – The Chapter Room
Madam Lidoine has been appointed the new prioress. She addresses the convent counseling patience and humility.
Scene iii – The Parlor
Blanche’s brother arrives and urges his sister to leave the convent and return home to their father but Blanche refuses.
Scene iv – The Sacristy
The chaplain, forbidden to perform his duties, celebrates mass in the sacristy. The nuns discuss the fear that has grabbed the country and Mother Marie wonders if self-sacrifice will be their destiny. Madame Lidoine reminds them that martyrs are chosen only by God’s will. Two commissioners enter and tell the sisters that they have been expelled from the convent, one of them adding that he will do what he can to help them get away safely. One of the sisters gives Blanche a figurine of the Christ Child. When revolutionary cries are heard from outside, Blanche nervously drops the figurine, breaking it and is immediately horrified by this omen.
Scene i – The Chapel
In the devastated chapel, Mother Marie suggests that they all take a vow of martyrdom by unanimous decision. Noting Blanche’s reaction, the others suspect that she will vote against it. When the secret ballot reveals one dissenter, Constance claims it was she and asks to reverse her vote. The nuns kneel to take the vow and at the end, Blanche runs away as soldiers lead the sisters from the convent. The nuns are now dressed in civilian clothes and an officer welcomes them as new citizen of the republic and warns them not to practice their religious life. The Prioress sends a nun to warn the chaplain who has agreed to conduct mass for them.
Scene ii – The Library of the Marquis de la Force
Blanche is forced to work as a servant in the ransacked mansion of her father, who has been sent to the guillotine. Mother Marie finds her and tries to persuade her to return to her sisters but Blanche refuses and prefers to remain in the family home. She later understands that the nuns have been arrested.
Scene iii – The Conciergerie
Madame Lidoine joins the sisters in the prison in their vow of martyrdom. Constance says that she dreamt of Blanche’s return. A jailor reads their death sentence. Madam Lidoine blesses the sisters. When Mother Marie learns that the nuns will die she resolves to join them by the chaplain reminds her that it is for God to decide whether or not she will be a martyr.
Scene iv – July 17, 1794. Place de la Revolution
A crowd has gathered as the nuns walk towards the guillotine led by Madame Lidoine and singing Slave Regina. With each stroke of the blade their voices are silenced, one by one, finally leaving only Constance. On her way to the scaffold she sees Blanche step up from the crowd and follow her to her death.
Back Stage Secrets at the Opera Many Opportunities to Widen your Opera Experience
Do you want to know more about the opera you are about to attend? Do you want to find out some back stage secrets? Do you want to meet the artists after the performance? The Israeli Opera enables you to widen your opera experience with a variety of pre performance and post-performance events.
Pre Performance Lecture One hour before each opera performance there is a 30-minute introductory lecture in the auditorium (in Hebrew). Opera staffers present the opera and the production and enable the audience to get some extra information a short time before attending the performances. Admission is free for ticket holders.
Opera Talkback The curtain has just descended on the final scene of the opera. The hour is late. Nut the experience was riveting. This is the time to meet several of the performers. Come to listen and to speak. Ask questions. Meet the artists. A once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the artists who have just excited you on the stage. Opera Talkbacks takes place on the second level of the Opera House foyer and last around 30 minutes. Admission free. Opera Talkback takes place on several evenings in each production. Details can be found at the Israeli opera’s website.