Chelsea Rus discusses Blanche’s psychological journey in Dialogues des Carmélites

Posted on Jan 24, 2013 in Opera | No Comments
Chelsea Rus discusses Blanche’s psychological journey in Dialogues des Carmélites

Blanche de la Force is on the last of your list of heroines”- from Song on the Scaffold by Gertrude von le Fort.

This quote is derived from my primary source of research for Blanche’s character. This is an arguable statement for it is true Blanche is not your typical Grand Opera heroine, however she does eventually conquer the one thing that has menaced her life since birth: Fear of fear.

Fear of fear includes everything from fear of death to being scared that the stairs slip from underneath her feet. Blanche was literally born in fear. Her mother was thrown into early labour after a frightening mob attack on her carriage just hours before and died giving birth to Blanche. Blanche has endured this intense anxiety or panaphobia since her first breath, and by the time the opera takes place she is 18. She has always been seen as weak and timid like a“little rabbit”, but by now she has a great deal of shame about her fear and goes to tremendous efforts to hide it from everyone. Blanche wants no more pity and to be seen as a brave adult.

On the other hand, Blanche by going to the convent in search for security from the terrors of the revolution displays incredible amounts of courage. In doing this, she defies her father, which in 18th century France was unheard of, and leaves her beloved brother to find her own peace. Only to find out that the Carmelite life is not everything she thought it to be for she is constantly tested and pushed by her superiors. Early on as a novice she comes face to face with the terrifying death of her beloved Prioress. In the first act alone, she displays all of the traits of strength within her. However, her potential is not realize until the very end.

In this opera Poulenc masters the art of psychological drama. He uses musical motives to indicate Blanche’s fear even when she does not admit to being scared right away. In this sense, we can predict her panic attacks and more importantly, we can tell when she is hiding her fear. The music acts as its own form of subtext and depicts the characters’ mental state so clearly that the audience can subconsciously experiences their inner dialogues.

- Chelsea Rus