The Chevalier de la Force expresses concern over Blanche, his sister, after hearing that she is trapped in her carriage amid a protesting crowd. The father, the Marquis, relates his panic during similar circumstances, when his wife died giving birth to Blanche. She arrives later and expresses no immediate anxiety, but a shadow on the wall spooks her, and she makes a vow to join the Carmelite order of nuns.
The dying Mother Superior impresses upon Blanche that the convent is not to be used as a refuge from life. Sister Constance eerily reveals to Blanche that she has dreamed that the two of them will die together on the same day. Blanche is commanded to care for the Mother Superior, who following much suffering and hallucinations, dies an agonizing death.
Blanche is left to guard the Mother Superior’s body, to her dismay. She loses her cool and runs out, is consoled and led back to her cell. She muses over the nature of the Prioress’s death. Sister Constance suggests that her death was perhaps as harsh as it was so that others, who might tolerate less, could also suffer less.
The Chevalier announces that as an aristocrat, he must flee the Revolution. He encourages Blanche to run as well, but she declines. A decree is made that dissolves all religious orders, and the Chaplain is relieved of his duties. The new Mother Superior departs on business, and Blanche is left to guard a statue of the Infant Jesus, which she shatters in her nervousness.
The Sisters meet in the convent and agree to vote on a vow of martyrdom which must be unanimous. Blanche is initially blamed for the one dissenting vote, until Sister Constance fesses up. Blanche, shaken again, returns to work at home; her father has been sacrificed to the guillotine. Mother Marie visits and implores Blanche to return to the convent, without success.
The Carmelites are imprisoned, and the Mother Superior delivers the final blessing as they hear their death sentence. At the Place de la Revolution, the Sisters, in a terrifyingly methodical manner, mount the scaffold. Blanche appears among the crowds just as Sister Constance is about to be beheaded. Constance witnesses Blanche’s transformation to fearlessness, and thus accepts death. As the Salve Regina sounds, Blanche joins in and also meets her fate.
Melanie Feilotter, OPERA America