|Photo: Michael Cooper|
“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.” I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.
—Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder
A couple of weeks ago, a Jesuit companion and I were able to get rush tickets to see the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. Based on the true story of a group of Carmelite nuns who were martyred during the religious persecutions of the French Revolution, the opera consists of a series of “dialogues” between the sisters as they come to a unanimous decision to make a vow to accept martyrdom rather than renounce their vows and their common life. It ends with the nuns singing hymns as they are guillotined one by one, with the sound of the falling blade chillingly incorporated into the score. It is dramatic and gripping, which, given the subject matter, might at first seem strange, but if one thinks about it, every opera is basically a series of dialogues at heart. The work is greatly enriched by Georges Bernanos’s libretto, which contains many spiritually profound insights.