Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dialogues des Carmélites

Today was another day in the rehearsal journey for Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites, truly a profoundly beautiful opera that explores the capacity of our humanity - both its horrors and fears. Set during the Reign of Terror, it charts the story of Blanche de la Force, her entrance into the convent and, ultimately, her death at the guillotine with her fellow Carmelite sisters. I find it pretty incredible that as a human race we violently massacred thousands of people (roughly 17,000) at the guillotine, including those that dedicated their lives to prayer. It's something that's important to confront and is brilliantly evoked in Poulenc's music.

Deep within Blanche is a state of fear and trauma - for her own life, and for her death. Soeur Constance, on the other hand, the youngest nun of the convent and the character I am playing, finds joy in every aspect of her life. She seems to be both naive, bold, and extremely wise all at the same time.

One of the things I've found that I love about my career path is that I learn so much about myself through the shoes of the characters I play. I have to ask myself - how would I personally approach this situation? How is my character different? Constance isn't afraid of death; she isn't afraid of jumping and not knowing where she's going to land (which may get her into trouble); she isn't afraid to admit that she doesn't always know what she wants, but she believes nonetheless. She is always thinking positively, questioning, but always with the purest sense of trust. When she dies, she is the essence of peace and happiness. She smiles, unafraid.

I think there's only been one time in my life where I've thought about death and about whether or not I am afraid of it. I don't know if it's because of the fact that I'm young, but I've never really felt the fear of dying. I think I am more afraid of encountering a situation where I know I am going to die - not because of being afraid of the moment when I will, but because I feel others around me would be dying if I were to, if that makes any sense. In any case, I'm inspired by Constance. I relate to her positive spirit and relentless curiosity, though I am pretty awe-stricken that someone so young would choose to devote her life to being a nun.

Here is a favorite excerpt from my character in the opera:

Blanche: Vous croyez toujours que Dieu fera selon notre bon plaisir?

(Do you always think that God is going to do exactly according to your own pleasure?)

Constance: Pourquoi pas? Ce que nous appelons hasard. C'est peut-etre la logique de Dieu. Pensez a la mort de notre chere Mere, Soeur Blanche! Qui aurait pu croire qu'elle aurait tant de peine a mourir. Qu'elle saurait si mal mourir! On dirait qu'au moment de la lui donner le bon Dieu s'est trompee de mort. Comme au vestiare en vous donne un habit pour un autre. Oui, ca devait etre la mort d'une autre, une mort trop petite pour elle. Elle ne pouvait seulement pas reussir a enfiller les manches.

(Why not? That's what we call chance. It is maybe God's logic. Think about the death of Mother Marie, Sister Blanche! Who would've thought that she would've had so much pain in her death, that she would've had such an awful death! One might say that at that moment God mislead death, like in a coatroom when one puts on someone else's coat. Yes, that would become the death of another, a death too small for her. She couldn't even begin to fill the sleeves.)

Blanche: La mort d'une autre? Qu'est-ce que ca peut bien vouloir dire, Soeur Constance?

(The death of another? What do you mean to say, Constance?)

Constance: Ca veut dire que cette autre lorsque viendra l'heure de la mort s'etonnera d'y entrer si facilement et de s'y sentir confortable. On ne meurt pas chacun pour soi, mais les uns pour les autres. Ou meme les uns a la place des autres. Qui sait?

(I mean that this other, when it is the hour of death, will be shocked to find it so easy to enter death and in it to feel so comfortable. We don't die for ourselves, but for one another. Or maybe we die in the place of others. Who knows?)

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