Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

152—The most Catholic opera: Dialogues of the Carmelites w/ Robert Reilly

By Catholic Culture Podcast ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 01, 2023 | In The Catholic Culture Podcast

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Author and music critic Robert Reilly joins the podcast to discuss one of the greatest operas ever composed, Francis Poulenc’s 1957 Dialogues des Carmélites, which host Thomas Mirus recently saw at the Metropolitan Opera. Based on the true story of sixteen Carmelite nuns who were martyred in the French Revolution (famously singing the Salve Regina as they went to the guillotine), the opera is an adaptation of Georges Bernanos’s play, which in turn was adapted from Gertrud von le Fort’s novella Song at the Scaffold.

With outstanding spiritual realism, Dialogues dramatizes the inner struggle of a soul. Its examination of the complex blend of motives for pursuing a religious vocation, the fear of death, and the transference of grace, is all the more moving when combined with Poulenc’s gorgeous music.

In addition to this opera, Reilly introduces us to some other great music by this Catholic composer.

One of the more popular 20th-c. operas—Georges Bernanos screenplay/stage play, based on Gertrud von le Fort’s Song at the Scaffold.


Robert Reilly, Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music

Surprised by Beauty website with music reviews and album recommendations

Poulenc recordings heard in this episode:

Mass No. 2 in G Major, RIAS Kammerchor, conducted by Marcus Creed

Sonata for Oboe and Piano, Maurice Bourgue (oboe), Jacques Février (piano)

Dialogues des Carmélites, Dervaux, Duval, Crespin

Stabat Mater, Regine Crespin (soprano), Choeurs Rene Duclos, Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire (Paris), conducted by Georges Pretre

Videos shown:

Metropolitan Opera 1987 performance of finale from Dialogues des Carmelites

Metropolitan Opera 2019 excerpts:

Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus. Download the Catholic Culture Podcast soundtrack.

Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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