Blanche (Samantha Osborn ‘13) at her interview with the Prioress in Opera Notre Dame’s upcoming performance of The Dialogues of the Carmelites
What role should government play in society? In religion?
These enduring questions are at the heart of Opera Notre Dame’s upcoming performance of The Dialogues of the Carmelites.
The opera takes place during the French Revolution and tells the story of a young noblewoman, Blanche de la Force, who joints the Carmelite order. This group of nuns is subsequently charged with sedition and executed by the government.
“Overall, the question is about the individual versus society and government, and government in opposition with religion,” says Opera Notre Dame Director Mark Beudert, a professional specialist in the College of Arts and Letters’ Department of Music.
Liberal Arts and Opera
Beudert, who serves as stage director and producer of the performance, says the University’s liberal arts tradition adds depth to the production.
In addition to technique, participants in Opera Notre Dame study the combination of music, rhetoric, theatre arts, visual arts, and dance that is opera. They also delve into the social, economic, and spiritual reality of the performance.
“It’s the art form that absorbs all the other art forms, so I think it’s very sympathetic for what we’re doing here,” Beudert says.
Opera Notre Dame has been staging an annual performance for more than 20 years. Previous productions include classics such as Sweeney Todd, Le nozze di Figaro, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“The biggest challenge is achieving conservatory results while being true to the liberal arts nature of the University,” Beudert says, noting that audiences are often “blown away” by the professionalism of the performances.
A Community Effort
Not just limited to music majors, the casting process is open to the entire campus, including students, faculty, and staff from all departments as well as students from other local colleges. This helps create a real sense of community collaboration, Beudert says.
“I love the audition process,” he says. “People come in and show us what they’ve got, and we go from there.” This year, 40 of the 55 performers are non-music majors, including several students from Indiana University, South Bend.
The lead role is shared by Samantha Osborn, a senior music and pre-med major in the College, and MurphyKate Montee, a senior music and math major. Each will play Blanche in two of the performances.
“The depth of the opera,” Montee says, “comes from the philosophical and theological discussions between the nuns as they face loss, faith, and death during the French Revolution.”
Osborn agrees. “The interest in this opera lies not only in the action of the plot itself but in the questions the characters raise about duty, faith, and the choices we make in difficult situations.
“People should expect to see an opera that is full of beautiful music,” she says, “and interesting philosophical questions.”
A Rewarding Challenge
Doing Dialogues of the Carmelites is a large undertaking that demands a lot of time and commitment from the cast and crew, Beudert notes. “It’s a big opera—there are a lot of moving parts, and doing it in French adds complexity to the project.”
Learning the French text and the contemporary style of composer Francis Poulenc’s music was a challenge but a rewarding one, Osborn says.
“I’ve never sung any music by Poulenc, and his style is quite different from that of Mozart or Rossini,” she says. “Over time though, the music becomes familiar and is no longer random sounds but recognizable phrases which are really beautiful.”
After a long preparation process dating back to October, Beudert and the cast will present the finished piece to the campus community April 25-28 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. English subtitles will be projected above the stage.
“The audience is going to find a story that will make them think,” Beudert says. “It’s going to be a very satisfying experience theatrically and emotionally as well.”