Dialogues Des Carmelites
The genesis of the opera began in 1953 when M. Valcarenghi approached Poulenc to commission a ballet for La Scala in Milan. When Poulenc found the proposed subject uninspiring, Valcarenghi suggested instead a screenplay by Bernanos based on the novella Die Letzte am Schafott by Gertrud von Le Fort. The novella derives from historical events at the monastery of Carmelite nuns in Compiègne, northern France, in the wake of the French Revolution, specifically in 1794 at the time of state seizure of the monastery's assets; it traces a fictional path from 1789 up to these events, when nuns of the Carmelite Order were guillotined.
Bernanos had been hired in 1947 to write dialogue for a movie version of the Le Fort work. When it was judged unsatisfactory for a film he turned it into a play which was produced in Paris in 1949. Poulenc saw the play, but it was on suggestion of his publishing firm Ricordi to turn the subject into an opera. The opera was composed between 1953 and 1956. The idea for the opera came at at time when Poulenc had recommitted himself to spirituality and Roman Catholicism. Some, such as opera critic Alan Rich, also see Poulenc's concerns for the travails of post-World War II France as a subtext within the opera.
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