Opera Sacra, the longest continually producing opera company in Western New York, was founded by Father Jacob Ledwon in 1975 at the former St. Joseph's New Cathedral in Buffalo. Choosing works that center on religious themes, its repertoire spans more than 1,000 years of music, including the classics of Grand Opera, medieval liturgical dramas, children's fables and contemporary masterworks. This fall, in celebration of the beginning of its 40th season, Opera Sacra is planning another exceptional program, a fully-staged production of Francis Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites."
The opera, based on actual historical events, tells the story of a convent of French Carmelite nuns who were executed at the guillotine in the waning months of the French Revolution. Based on a diary written by one of nuns, the story was turned in to a short novella by Gertrude von le Fort, "The Song at the Scaffold." This became the basis for a movie script by George Bernanos. The movie was never made, but the script became the libretto for Poulenc's glorious opera.
The main character of the opera is a noblewoman, Blanche de la Force. She is afraid of death and seeks refuge in the Carmelite convent in Compiegne, France. There she meets another novice, Sister Constance, a peasant girl who is a carefree spirit. The prioress of the convent dies a gruesome death. Sister Constance proposes that she probably got someone else's death, someone who would not have had the strength to endure that kind of suffering.
Eventually the nuns are all arrested and sentenced to death, but by this time Blanche has fled the convent. As the nuns are going to the scaffold they sing the "Salve Regina." The last to die is Sister Constance, but as she goes to the guillotine, she sees her proposal come true as Blanche pushes her way through the jeering crowd and confidently joins her sisters in martyrdom.
The opera is dominated by women's voices and this production will include some of the finest opera singers in Western New York. Two amazing coloratura sopranos, Colleen Marcello and Amy Grable, who sang the roles of the queens, Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, in Opera Sacra's 2012 production of Donizetti's "Maria Stuarda," will sing the roles of Blanche and Sister Constance.
The cast will also include Laurie Tramuta as Mother Marie of the Incarnation, Suzanne Fatta as Madame Croissy, the first prioress, and Cristen Gregory as Madame Lidoine, the second prioress. Tom Doyle will sing the role of Blanche's father, the Marquis de la Force, and Ethan Depuy will play her brother, the Chevalier de la Force.
Two choruses, the first of 13 nuns and the second 16-voice chorus of rabble, complete the cast. In addition to these singers, the epic scope of this work requires a very large orchestra of more than 40 instrumentalists. The performances will be conducted by Roland E. Martin.
This was the first opera that Opera Sacra produced in its 1975 inaugural season, and again in 1985. It has not been presented in Western New York in more than 30 years.
"I can think of no better way to celebrate the 40 years of Opera Sacra's artistic achievements than going back to the beginning and presenting this unique piece again," Father Ledwon said. "It should be a thrilling performance."
Two performances will be staged at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21-22, at St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St., Buffalo. Suggested donations at the door will be $20 ($15 for seniors). Patron tickets at $50 and benefactor tickets at $100 will include preferred seating and an artist reception.
For more information call 716-833-0298.