Cher Public

Miss Firecracker

“Just like the pyrotechnics the heroine of The Firework Maker’s Daughter longs to create, this new opera for children is a delightful, low-tech throwback to a time before CGI took over the world.” [New York Post]

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    I guess shows like this can never be again!

  • Will

    Apologies for going off topic but I just read Mr. Tommassini’s review of the MET’s Carmelites revival. The last line of his review stunned me — it turns out that in the final moments of the opera the entire story turns out to have been about Sr. Constance!

    Will says:

    Quoth Mr. Tommassini:
    Constance, terrified, is last to go. But Blanche, who had been hiding, working as a servant, joins her in sisterly solidarity as both go to the guillotine. So Constance was right: someone — herself — does have an easier death than she had feared.

    Have I missed the point all these years? — is not Blanch, terrified by life and in flight from the convent when it falls into the Revolution’s net, the one who cannot face death easily but goes serenely at the end due to the Old Prioress’ difficult death on her behalf?

    Also, yes, the Bernanos was a screenplay that was eventually filmed some years after the opera’s premiere with Alida Valli as Lidoine (here called Sr. Therese), Jeanne Moreau as Mere Marie, and Madeliene Renaud as the Old Prioress. The fascinating difference between Poulenc and Bernanos is that in the latter it is Lidoine/Therese who is the last to mount the scaffold, having seen Blanche in the crowd and embraced her as she comes forward to die after the other nuns. The movie is available complete in something like 11 chunks on YouTube.
    (copied from the original post here that is now so behind in the queue I thought nobody would reference it)

    • It’s an interesting question of interpretation.

      The libretto reads as follows:

      (Constance, la dernière des carmélites, monte à l’échafaud. Blanche, le visage dépouillé de toute crainte, se fraye un passage dans la foule où elle se confond)

      CONSTANCE O clemens…

      (Constance l’aperçoit et son visage s’irradie de bonheur. Elle s’arrête un court instant. Reprenant sa marche à l’échafaud, elle sourit doucement à Blanche)

      O pia, o dulcis Virgo Ma…

      (Incroyablement calme, Blanche émerge de la foule stupéfaite et monte au supplice)

      BLANCHE Deo Patri sit gloria Et Filio qui a mortuis Surrexit ac Paraclito In saeculorum saecula. In saeculorum…

      (La foule se disperse lentement)

      What seems to be indicated here is that Blanche watches the execution of the Carmelites in terror. As Constance mounts the scaffold, she recognizes Blance in the crowd, then continues to her death smiling. This tiny gestures somehow encourages Blanche, who “emerges from the astonished crowd” and goes to the scaffold.

      This is a very subtle and “small” dramatic moment, and perhaps for that reason, John Dexter broadened it somewhat. In his staging, Constance falters as she reaches the steps of the scaffold and looks for an instant as if she will try to flee. But as she turns, Blanche runs onstage and they freeze, looking at each other for a moment. Then Constance turns and goes to the scaffold and the action proceeds as in the stage directions.

      An interpretation is an interpretation, but I think this bit (of an otherwise exemplary production) throws the emphasis off in the last moments. Blanche is the protagonist and therefore it is her character arc that is most important. As such, the peripeteia moment should be hers, not Constance’s; that is, the end of the opera should hinge on Blanche’s decision and change of mind.

      It is possible that the reason for this piece of staging is that what is indicated simply didn’t read, especially since the march to the scaffold proceeds directly upstage instead of crosswise, so any facial expressions on the nuns’ faces are invisible to the audience.

      • Will

        Yes, I wondered if Dexter didn’t develop Constance st that moment more than indicated in the libretto when I first saw the production. First, she falls in a faint when the nuns are gathered downstage just before they turn to the scaffold (which gave Jessye Norman, earth mother extraordinaire, a gorgeous moment raising up the thin slip of Betsy Norden before the executions begin) and then there is the moment you speak of when she turns as if to run away. I never got the impression anywhere in the opera that Constance’s radiant, simple faith would lead to such a breakdown. And it is, of course, Blanche’s story; that is the logical plot trajectory from the Gertrude von le Fort (de la Force, interestingly) short story through Bernanos to Poulenc.

        • LittleMasterMiles

          Blanche is undoubtedly at the center of the opera, but her change of heart happens offstage, or at least before we or Constance catch sight of her: the stage direction quote above describes her as appearing “devoid of fear” (“le visage dépouillé de toute crainte”). In this scene Blanche is really in a kind of transfigured state, and her calm presence is what gives Constance courage in her moment of weakness (which gives Blanche’s quasi-spiritual state something in which to be reflected). Blanche’s transformation must start around the end of her previous scene with Mere Marie, since she returns to Paris in the following Interlude. I don’t remember the details of how the Dexter production stages her entrance in the Finale, but the libretto is pretty clear that she is totally calm.

          • her calm presence is what gives Constance courage in her moment of weakness

            According to Dexter’s production, anyway, but that “moment of weakness” is not indicated anywhere in the stage directions, and it’s hard to find any faltering in the music either.

            I was wrong about Blanche “observing in terror,” obviously: she should just appear out of the crowd calmly. In the Dexter, she dashes on from offstage left -- there is little sense of her emerging from the crowd.

            The more I see Constance’s “faltering” the less I like it — the effect I think is obvious and rather cheap.

          • Nerva Nelli
          • Interesting discussion.

            Much as I love Dexter’s staging of the finale, I don’t particularly care for Constance faltering either.

            In this production, the nuns walk across the stage (not upstage) but Blanche still dash onstage, and does not “emerge”:

            In Marthe Keller’s beautiful staging, Blanche still runs onstage but the interaction with Cosntance is very moving:

            In the Carsen production, Blanche does emerge in a serene way and the interaction with Constance is more subtle and probably closest to the spirit of the stage directions:

  • rofrano

    Interesting conversation. Thanks, Cieca, for typically solid close reading. I took Dexter’s reading to be a comment on Blanche’s triumph over her fear of death -- fear which is finally turned to courage. Constance is but a foil to emphasize this.