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A masterpiece about valiant nuns in the shadow of the French Revolution premieres at the Finnish National Opera

Dialogues des Carmélites, composed by Francis Poulenc, describes real events during the time of the French Revolution, where 11 carmelite nuns were executed by guillotine. The sisters are said to have shown great courage: they refused to renounce their faith, ascended the scaffold supporting each other, and alleviated their fear by singing.

Dialogues des Carmélites, which premieres on 26 January 2024, will now be seen for the first time at the Finnish National Opera. Its touching plot is based on a true story. During the French Revolution, in July 1794 in Paris, 16 residents of the Compiègne Carmelite convent, including 11 nuns, were executed by guillotine.

Priests and members of Catholic religious orders, in effect monks and nuns, were typical victims of persecution during the Revolution. Instead of abandoning their fate, the nuns of the Carmelite convent continued their communal life in hiding, against the authorities’ orders. As they were eventually discovered, they were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary activities.

The sisters are remembered for their great courage. They remained united to the end and refused to join the revolution. Facing execution, the nuns made their way to the guillotine without resisting the soldiers, supporting each other, and alleviated their fear by singing.

It was common for aristocratic families to send their daughters to a convent in the 18th century. Many were forced into convent life against their will, but the monastic environment also offered women the freedom to pursue arts and sciences and to achieve independence.

Leading Finnish singers relive the nuns’ fate

Various writers were inspired by the story of the Carmelite nuns. In 1931, the German author Gertrude von le Fort wrote a novella based on the Carmelites’ experiences. The play Dialogues des Carmélites (Dialogues of the Carmelites, 1949) by the French writer Georges Bernanos drew from le Fort’s work. Francis Poulenc, in turn, adapted Bernanos’s play for his own opera. The premiere of the opera took place in Milan in 1957.

In opera literature, Dialogues des Carmélites stands out for its unusually high number of soprano, mezzo, and alto roles. The opera’s principal roles are interpreted by some of Finland’s most esteemed singers, such as Marjukka Tepponen and Tuuli Takala, Tuija Knihtilä and Niina Keitel, Pauliina Linnosaari and Kirsi Tiihonen, Johanna Rusanen and Anna Danik, as well as Sanna Iljin and Iris Candelaria.

The award-winning and visually impressive production by French director Olivier Py had its successful premiere in 2013 at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Hannu Lintu and James Sherlock alternate in conducting the performance. The Finnish National Opera’s revival is directed by Daniel Izzo. Pierre-André Weitz is responsible for the set design and costumes, and Bertrand Killy for lighting.

Ranskalaisen ohjaaja Olivier Pyn palkittu visuaalisesti vaikuttava tuotanto sai menestyksekkään ensi-iltansa Pariisin Théâtre des Champs-Élysées’ssä 2013. Esityksen kapellimestareina vuorottelevat Hannu Lintu ja James Sherlock. Kansallisoopperaan uusintaohjauksen tekee Daniel Izzo. Lavastuksesta ja puvuista vastaa Pierre-André Weitz ja valaistuksesta Bertrand Killy.

Francis Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites
Premiere at the Finnish National Opera on 26 January 2024
Other performance dates 31.1.–23.2.2024