Rife with historical references, Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites is a 20th-century opera masterpiece and an insightful exploration of wide-reaching themes: life, death, honor, and religion. In 1789, at the beginning of French Revolution, Blanche de la Force—daughter of a nobleman—senses the rising wave of anti-aristocratic sentiment and decides to become a nun, hoping to find safety in the convent. After their prioress dies, the whole convent—including the new Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ—take a vow of martyrdom and, when sentenced to death, resign themselves to their fate, singing the moving "Salve Regina" as they march to the guillotine.
Visionary Russian stage director Dmitri Tcherniakov, winner of four Golden Mask awards for Best Director, transposes Poulenc's opera into a Soviet context, with sparse and unadorned scenography and a stellar cast that includes Susan Gritton as Sister Blanche and Bernard Richter as her brother, the Chevalier de la Force. Under the baton of the great Kent Nagano, the Orchestra and Choir of the Bayerische Staatsoper bring out the poetry in Poulenc's opera, with its "subtle and intricate tonal language [that] is by turns hymnal and haunting" (Anthony Tommasini).