Whilst researching the role of Blanche de la Force from Poulenc’s Opera ‘Dialogue Des Carmélites’, I found an opportunity to embark on a little adventure. My character is the daughter of a French Noble family who joins the Carmélite order of nuns against her families wishes during the period of the French Revolution.
At College, as part of a trio, we were doing some short improvisation exercises led by our Director Stuart Barker during our first staging rehearsal last Thursday. The objective of these tasks was to see how your character would react in circumstances prior to our actual scene. For example, Glen and I improvised a meeting between Blanche and her Brother at home with the objective of organising a birthday party for their father. In the second exercise with Davidona, we improvised that our characters were completing the daily tasks that a nun might participate in. It soon became apparent to me that because I don’t have a Catholic upbringing, there were areas of my character development that I had no way of imagining. I wanted to deepen my understanding of what Blanche may have been going through emotionally and the mechanics of her daily life within a Carmélite Monastery.
In order to do this, on Friday afternoon I decided to research on the internet about the Carmélite Order some of which I have added to the end of my post. To my amazement, I discovered that there was a Carmélite Monastery in London, within 45 minutes travelling by bus from my home. I emailed via their contact form on the website, and I was very grateful to Sister Patricia who said that I could join them for Mass on Saturday morning at 8am. Luckily, I’m an early bird so I set my alarm and planned to start my day with this experience.
I arrived at the Monastery around 7:40am, all was quiet and the morning sun was just starting to colour the sky blue. Not knowing what to expect I was a little apprehensive at first as I was alone and the Monastery was completely enclosed. Ahead of me in the courtyard was a simple sign ‘Chapel’, I climbed the stairs and after a little wait I was greeted silently by one of the sisters and guided into the chapel for Mass.
Shortly after I sat down, the regular congregation began to slowly arrive. The sister turned on the electric lights to reveal the beautiful intricacies of the chapel. Somebody then came to light the candles and prepare the altar for the mass. One very interesting observation, even though I could barely see, was watching the sisters in the separate room prepare for Mass as well. The grille was in place, and heavy curtains were opened. Then one sister unlocked half of the grille and it opened in folds like a concertina to create a private opening to the altar. Then the Priest entered the chapel through a private door and began the Mass. It was so wonderful and humbling to watch the mass. I felt very relaxed and reflective. Deep in thought about what I had seen and experienced whilst sharing this short time with the Sisters, I left full of energy for the day ahead. I have the utmost respect for their dedication and commitment and I will try my very best to show that when developing the character that I am to portray in my performance on January 19th at the Royal College of Music.
The Nuns live a cloistered life, in 2010 they allowed a documentary film director a rare glimpse into their world after he asked them for permission over a ten year period, this film is called ‘No Greater Love’.
You can read more about the Carmelite order on their website here and if you have a minute please take a look at their shop as they have some lovely items for sale.
More Information On The Carmelite Order
The Postulancy is the initial stage of formation and is generally an 8-month experience.
The first and last months of the Postulancy are spent at the Motherhouse, and the other six months are spent at one of the Homes served by the Congregation. The Postulant is given the opportunity to work with the elderly in the facility and to participate in the prayer life of the Sisters.
A Certified Nurses Aide training program and other pertinent services are provided for a postulant with no previous experience working with the elderly.
Classes are given on the following: Spiritual life, Community history, Carmelite Spirituality, Catechesis, Community life.
The Postulant Director meets at least weekly with the Postulant to discuss her progress and difficulties, and to offer guidance.
If readiness for the Novitiate is ascertained, the Postulant receives her name in religion and prepares for the next phase of formation: the Novitiate.
The Novitiate is a two-year period of time during which the Novice explores on a deeper level what it means to be a member of our Carmelite Congregation. The resolve and suitability of the Novice is further discerned. There is concentration on developing a solid spiritual foundation.
The First, or Canonical Year
The Novice receives the Habit of Carmel (Brown tunic, brown scapular, and a white veil.)
The Sister becomes more fully acquainted with the many facets of religious life.
Classes are given on the Rule and Constitutions, the Vows of Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty, Scripture, Prayer, Liturgy, Christian Doctrine, Vatican documents, spiritual growth, and development.
These classes are given by the Novice Director, experienced priests, and other qualified speakers.
The Second Year
The Novice continues to learn and live the spiritual and religious aspects of the Carmelite life.
She learns more about the apostolate through a course on the Organization and Operation of the Long Term Care Facility and by spending time in two homes of the Congregation.
If readiness and suitability of the Novice are ascertained, Sister then goes on to the next step of her religious formation “Profession of First Vows” and receives a black veil that distinguishes the Professed Sister from the Novice.
The Temporary Profession of Vows
The Temporary Profession of Vows is the stage in religious formation during which the newly Professed Sister is assigned to one of our mission houses, where she will gain further experience in integrating the spiritual and apostolic aspect of our lives as Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.
The Religious Vows are renewed annually before perpetual profession.
The Sister continues in the active ministry of the Congregation and resides with a local community of Carmelite Sisters.
The Sister continues to attend formal spiritual programs held at the Motherhouse twice a year.
She strives to grow in union with God and in her gift of self to the Community and the apostolate.
The Perpetual Profession of Vows
After completing the five to seven year period of temporary vows, the Sister may request to make perpetual profession.
A gold ring is given at the time of perpetual profession.
The Sister becomes a permanent member of the Congregation.
By her final profession of vows, she gives herself forever to God, her Community and the Church.
63 thoughts on “Blanche de la Force, Character Preparation”
What a beautiful way to bring yourself into the full experience of your character. I am humbled that you demonstrate the tenacity necessary to deliver the most convincing of performances. Brava!
I’m happy to go with the Director’s vision of how he wants his portrayal of Blanche and the scene but when I was asked to imagine I’m behind a grille or to improvise about a subject i.e. the Catholic faith that I have limited knowledge of I do enjoy researching either on the internet or in the library which is rich with information at the Royal College of Music.
All my best wishes
This is very interesting and fascinating about to become a nun!
Yes, it is. I have only previously seen film depictions of nuns and this is quite a different Order, the most strict that I have heard of. The actual opera is about a community of sixteen nuns in France that were put to death by guillotine in Paris on 17th July 1794, condemned as traitors!
Oh, thank you for the story of the opera too!
The depth of your experiences as sure to give you insight into your work. How wonderful to read this and to see you delving into the Carmelite Order. Thanks so much for all of this information, loved reading it, Darlene
The opera is an unpleasant reminder of history at its worst. During the French Revolution, the Nuns refused to obey the revolutionary government to suppress their monastery and all sixteen were guillotined on 17th July 1794 and buried in a mass grave. The scene is Blanche’s brother trying to persuade her to leave because her father fears for her life.
The horror of it all.
This is both admirable in terms of how you approach your characterisation, and thoughtful in how you respected a way of life so removed from your own experience.
Well to be a Carmelite Nun is the total opposite of my chosen career, to perform one has to always be under the scrutiny of others. I respect the contrast of my life and their discipline and belief. Such a sad story though, the Reign of Terror that put the Sisters to death on 17/07/1794 ended only ten days after their martyrdom.
Glad you were able to go to the mass at Camilite. Great experience to have in your back pocket. May the Lord bless you richly this New Year 2018 my Beloved.
Thank you, Rev Tim. The Sisters sang during Mass which is always a joy to me.
Fascinating! And what a beautiful place to live – or, indeed, visit.
All the best for the production!
Thank you, Deborah, I’m always very interested in the lives people chose to live from one extreme to another. That is what I love about blogging, we meet such interesting people.
I think you are wise to experience what you can of this life, since it is so very helpful to understand the character. I do not know the show, but it is also great that you understand the phases of progress and will see within yourself what would have been true of her if she had simply run off to the nunnery last week, or has been there for years etc. Good for you, and best wishes with it.
I was pleased I went, there was sufficient information on the Internet but you don’t get a feel for the monastery, the seclusion, the movement, and sounds. I also appreciated the time to reflect. In real life Sister Constance, the novice Nun was sentenced to death by guillotine aged just 29.
How sad. Was that 1789-1793ish?
Yes, 17/07/1794 just days before the end of the revolution.
This is lovely. I know you will be amazing. Would so like to be among the audience. Wishing you the very best.
Thank you I’m working hard on the French, the French teachers at the RCM are fabulous.
That sounds daunting, wishing you the best in all you do. Holly.
What a fascinating experience. And so typical of you to throw yourself whole-heartily into your character. I just finished reading a book called The Anchoress (Robyn Cadwallader) about the medieval women who gave themselves over to a life of solitude.
I spend a lot more time in solitude than people would expect from me, but I also love company, big groups, meeting new people, seeing the world and I wouldn’t like to cut myself off completely so I admire their strength and belief. I do feel my additional research into the order was important for me as a person. The actual opera tells a very sad, true-life story from the final days of the French revolution in 1794, where 16 nuns were guillotined in Paris, they all sang a hymn as they mounted the scaffold to meet their death.
Oh! There’s a piece of history I hadn’t come across before. How tragic. As for the solitude aspect, I know what you mean. People imagine because I am outgoing and like to party, that it means I am 100% extrovert. No such thing! I like my alone time too much.
So beautiful place have good day dear
It was beautiful, so peaceful in the middle of the busy City of London.
Best wishes Amritpal,
What a wonderful post Charlotte. At least three new experiences for me: despite loving opera for 70 years (‘Carmen’ with the Carl Rosa company, was my first, followed shortly after by ‘The Flying Dutchman’), I did not know the Poulenc; I knew nothing of the Carmelite order; I had never thought about preparation for a character but what a way to do it, just beautiful’. Thank you for letting us into your world again; now I must find the Poulenc!
Do find it, it’s a poignant reminder of a heart-breaking story. All sixteen Nuns in the Order were guillotined in the final days of the French Revolution, they sang a hymn at the Scaffold until the last Nun was dead, and our scene is the story retold by Poulenc of one of the sister’s trying to be persuaded by her brother to leave with him because the family feared for her life.
This is a lovely post Charlotte, yet again you never fail to impress me. To actually go to see the Order for yourself is amazing, you certainly research your roles fully which reflects in your overall performances. Well done.😘
I want to experience as much as I can whilst I’m in London, I was amazed to read there was a monastery nearby. It is a scene from the opera I’d love to do the full opera one day.
Charlotte, you really are amazing the amount of research, and experience you go to, to reach your goals..
What a exciting and interesting day you had.
Keep up the good work ,you will be rewarded with a fabulous career,you certainly deserve it.😘😘
Who knows what next year has in store for me it’s both exciting and trepidatious.
Bravo Charlotte – I love your commitment to researching the story of every role you play – thank you for sharing this little adventure. And it shows the complexity of your job as a singer – The dialogue of the Carmelites is both French, history, religion, a social study ….. Very proud of you dear friend! C’est très bien ! Et tu mets toujours de la lumière dans ce que tu écrits, meilleurs pensées pour Toi
I always enjoyed studying History. C’est une histoire sombre et elle m’étonne le pouvoir d’un groupe de personnes à commettre un autre groupe de personnes à mort. Merci beaucoup Pascal.
Si tu me permets, je penses que tu veux dire (if you agree, i think you want to say) : ce qui m’étonne, c’est qu’un groupe de personnes se donnent le pouvoir d’en pousser un autre vers la mort…. ou bien : je m’étonne toujours du désir d’un groupe de personnes à obliger une autre groupe jusqu’à leur mort – C’est étonnant la manière dont un groupe de gens se donne le droit de manipuler la vie d’un autre groupe de gens jusqu’à leur mort.
and yes, some people think, same in their own family, that the people of their choice are their toys …. even nowadays unfortunately.
Yes please do correct me, that’s the only way to learn 🙋🏼😊
It is wonderful that you went there to do your research and get the background for your role.
I checked out the store and unfortunately picked cards that were out of stock – I WILL go back though, they were amazing.
I read they make their living mainly making and selling alter bread but the upkeep of the old buildings must be a heavy cost, I understand they grow their own vegetables but they still have to order supplies in. It amazed me tucked away in a tiny nook in Central London.
How interesting, Charlotte! Your experience reminds me of the time I attended a service at a synagogue to do research for a university assignment–I was unsure beforehand what my reception would be as a non-Jewish visitor, but the reception was so welcoming and friendly, not to mention informative, that I keep meaning to go back and visit again sometime!
I’m sure your performance on the 19th will be wonderful. Is it open for the public to view? I’d be really interested to see it, supposing I can make it up to London after work!
I remember being taught about multiple faiths at school but we did very little on the Catholic faith. Yes the performance is open to public view I think you may have to reserve a ticket similar to last time it would be lovely to see you again but I think it is a 17:30 pm performance so may clash with work.
Best wishes Cate
That would be a bit early to make it from work with the train schedule 🙁 Hope you can get someone in the audience to take lots of pictures for you to share with the rest of us! Best of luck!
I’m looking forward to discovering how your research will dictate your acting choices when you play this role. Best of luck!
We have a very experienced Director to guide the scene, Stuart Barker from the British Youth Opera and I have received guidance from the staff here at the RCM, but I’m hoping I now have a better understanding to bring more to the role myself.
How fantastic the order had a monastery near London! What an experience! X
It was a nice surprise I read there are two Carmelite Monasteries near Liverpool too, 11 in England, 3 in Scotland and 1 in Wales over 200 nuns.
They live as a small community of friends dedicated to prayer, silence, and solitude.
All my best wishes
Thanks for the link. I’ll have a read x
I love Poulenc’s music but have never seen/heard this opera. How fortunate that there is the Carmelite monastery near to you. Such a wonderfully dedicated way you found to research your role!
The music is lovely but it is a very sad tale of power over people going wrong. Just a short time before the end of the French Revolution sixteen nuns in the Order were put to death by guillotine. I had never heard of this before so I have Audrey Hyland our new Deputy Head of Vocal and Opera to thank for giving me this scene and history to learn.
All my best wishes
What a terrible tale!
Goodness! You are an adventurous soul!
Just trying to live life to the full Jorge 🙂
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. I guess, through my own experiences I realize that structures can become shackles. I find myself trying to break free of any chains without forgetting my foundation altogether. It’s been a challenge to work through at this point in my life. I still have uncertainties about where I am in all of this. However, I do agree with the Nun about after Death. Nothing to lose, all to gain. I haven’t missed out on anything… The Biblical principles that I do live by have benefited me so much, why should I give them up?
One of the Nuns questioned her calling for eighteen years. I think being true to yourself is very important and not changing who you truly are to try to fit in is also essential. Otherwise, if you feel you are chained and you want to take that chain off then find a way to do it whilst holding on to your principles.
All my best wishes
Never heard of this opera or the story behind it. I worked a Met Opera production of The Mass of the Carmelites but that was a straight forward Mass. This sounds really interesting and I love the research you have put into it. Break a leg.
Thank you Don, I didn’t break a leg but I started with an awful cold the day before hehe. My voice held out but I went straight to bed after the performance, sad I missed the after show drinks but I’ve got a busy week next week.
My best wishes
Atta girl! First things first. Parties are fun but your getting your rest is important.
Wow! An interesting post. Your willingness to do what it takes is why you’re so good at all you do! 🤗
Thank you Linda, luckily I’ve always been a curious person, one coach in Scotland called me the ‘Why Bird’ hehe. There is a great library at the RCM I spend a lot of time in there and the Internet is so valuable now.
Best wishes to you
I read this a while ago and was deeply impressed by your preparation. As someone who spent 3 years in a Roman Catholic boarding school, I can assure you it leaves quite a mark.
I went to a secular High School we didn’t have any sort of religious assembly, the only images I had of Nuns or the Roman Catholic faith was what I’ve seen depicted on tv and in films, so I was glad I went I found the service very peaceful. In the scene Blanche’s brother turns up at the Monastery to try to persuade her to leave with him as their Father felt she was in danger there and she turns him away. In the story, she later leaves only to return to join the Order at the scaffold where they were all beheaded just a few days before the end of the uprising. A very sad tale. The scene had a profound effect on me actually and I felt quite drained after the performance (not helped by this awful cold finally catching up with me). I going to spend a bit of time watching Disney films this weekend I think – at least they all had happy endings.
You are certainly dedicated to doing an exceptional performance, Charlotte, to research the role so thoroughly. So sad that so many nuns lost their lives. You will definitely feel the part and be able to put more emotion into your role. Best wishes always! Xxoo
Thank you, Janice, I enjoyed working on my French with the exceptional French teachers at the RCM. My singing teacher Rosa and coaches helped me tonnes over the few weeks I had to prepare the music, translation, and dialogue. As I said to Hilary above, performing the scene had a real effect on me and I went home drained and got straight into bed to try to get over this cold that’s building up.
All my best wishes
Wonderful, Charlotte, but take care of yourself! ❤️ xx