M1 Project - Stage Design

  Les Dialogues des Carmélites Alexander Kenney  

Les Dialogues des Carmélites

I am pleased to be able to offer the topic “scenography” as M 1 module in the scope of drafting opportunities of the generalist job profile of the “architect” during the summer semester of 2017. The topic deals with the stage design of the opera “Dialogues des Carmélites”.

In how far stage design and architecture are both coined by the idea of the scenical is not only shown in the fact that many architects are and were also great stage designers: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Hans Poelzig, Fritz Schumacher and many others. They represent the close bond of architecture and its ephemeral sister, the transitory art of stage design. For the architect Friedrich Schinkel, for example, stage design played a major role in all of his creative life.

In the present education of architects at university, the bond with technology usually prevails and the area of stage design is sadly underestimated and neglected, despite the affinity and expression shown by the cultural and stylistic transformations of the arts on stage and in architecture. The staged motif of the contemporary perception of architecture expresses its multifarious meaning in the term “performative architecture”.

Performative architecture, as a bridge to art, offers many ways of expression: film architecture, art in public places, fair and exhibition architecture, and in our focus: scenography as “stage design”.

In stage design, many artistic disciplines meet to a collective creation: music, literature, acting, painting, dancing and architecture. Scenography is one of the formative and visible elements. In this sense, the director’s expression that the stage design is the design or impression the viewer “takes home” is easily comprehensible.

The opera “Dialogues des Carmélites” poses a great creative challenge. The concrete, yet fictional venue is the Aachen theater. This favorable circumstance helps you to collaboration and you will meet the dramaturge Lukas Popovic. Moreover, the equipment manager of Aachen theater, Detlev Beaujean, will tell you about his work as stage designer and will guide you through the workshops of Aachen theater. On top of that, the musical-dramaturge Christoph Lang will give a presentation on the musical requirements of the opera.

Dr. Gerald Köhler, who is in charge of the theatrical collection of the University of Cologne in Wahn castle (Schloss Wahn), will give you great insights in original materials of the stage design and on its history.


Based on the stage in the great hall (Großer Saal) in Aachen theater, each student is supposed to develop a stage design for the orchestration of the opera “Dialogues des Carmélites” (three acts)

However the technical requirements of a modern stage technology, which is available to us there, we still need to achieve great ways of expression with simple and rudimentary means.

This is a significant challenge, since every participant is supposed to act intuitively on the characteristics and terms of the play, on the music and the plot and on the room and the atmospheres. The student’s role, in this case, is an ambivalent one, since he or she has to think both as director and as creative scenographer.

Through the joint method game (seminars), you will work towards a formal and aesthetic decision and also reform imagination and intention into original and discrete artistic designs.

The final model will be designed in a scale of 1:25 (popular scale for stage design drafts).

Naturally, light, materiality, colors and ambience play a significant role, which is why light and color concepts are also to be developed, which will then be included in the design. Likewise, costumes and equipment/props are an important part of the design.

Every student is artistically and stylistically free and should create his or her own interpretation of the opera “Dialogues des Carmélites”.

Course requirements:

  • Research on the stage design concept “Dialogues des Carmélites”

Participation is required in the excursions and work discussions/colloquia, as well as in the methodic introduction (method game). Accompanying documentation for the work report.

Sketch or collage of the play’s plot.

  • Design (Sketches, models, plans that show the producing and support of an idea.) Traceability of the design idea. Materials, colors, usage of lighting, stage technology, room concept

Concrete models

Design drawings of equipment constructions

Costume designs

Color concept

Display of single acts as rendered hand drawings, plots or a combination of both techniques.

Final work report with the following requirements:

Written essay and documentation of all processes – all sketches going back to the very first idea and up to the final design, documentation of the excursions, pictures in excellent quality of the design result (drawing, stage and model).

Finally, a CD (labelled with your name etc.), which comprises all of the aforementioned results.


Working with and participating in the stage design of the opera “Dialogues des Carmélites” requires dealing wit the subject continually.


(Source: Wikipedia)

Act 1

Against the setting of the French Revolution, when crowds stop carriages in the street and aristocrats are attacked, the pathologically timid Blanche de la Force decides to retreat from the world and enter a Carmelite monastery. The Mother Superior informs her that the Carmelite Order is not a refuge; it is the duty of the nuns to guard the Order, not the other way around. In the convent, the jolly Sister Constance tells Blanche (to her consternation) that she has had a dream that the two of them will die young together. The prioress, who is dying, commits Blanche to the care of Mother Marie. The Mother Superior passes away in great agony, shouting in her delirium that despite her long years of service to God, He has abandoned her. Blanche and Mother Marie, who witness her death, are shaken.

Act 2

Sister Constance remarks to Blanche that the prioress' death seemed unworthy of her, and speculates that she had been given the wrong death, as one might be given the wrong coat in a cloakroom. She said that perhaps someone else will find death surprisingly easy. Perhaps we die not for ourselves alone, but for each other.

Blanche's brother, the Chevalier de la Force, arrives to announce that their father thinks Blanche should withdraw from the monastery, since she is not safe there (being both an aristocrat and the member of a religious community, at a time of anti-aristocrat and anti-clericalism in the rising revolutionary tides). Blanche refuses, saying that she has found happiness in the Carmelite Order. Later she admits to Mother Marie that it is fear (or the fear of fear itself, as the Chevalier expresses it) that keeps her from leaving.

The chaplain announces that he has been forbidden to preach (presumably for being a non-juror under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). The nuns remark on how fear rules the country, and no one has the courage to stand up for the priests. Sister Constance asks, "Are there no men left to come to the aid of the country?" "When priests are lacking, martyrs are superabundant," replies the new Mother Superior. Mother Marie says that the Carmelites can save France by giving their lives, but the Mother Superior corrects her: it is not permitted to choose to become a martyr; God decides who will be martyred.

A police officer arrives and announces to the community that the LegislativeAssembly has nationalized the monastery and its property, and the nuns must give up their religious habits. When Mother Marie acquiesces, the officer taunts her for being eager to dress like everyone else. She replies that the nuns will continue to serve, no matter how they are dressed. "The people have no need of servants," proclaims the officer haughtily. "No, but they have a great need for martyrs," responds Mother Marie. "In times like these, death is nothing," he says. "Life is nothing," she answers, "when it is so debased."

Act 3

In the absence of a new prioress, Mother Marie proposes that the nuns take a vow of martyrdom. However, all must agree, or Mother Marie will not insist. A secret vote is held; there is one dissenting voice. Sister Constance declares that she was the dissenter, and that she has changed her mind, so the vow can proceed. Blanche runs away from the monastery, and Mother Marie goes to look for her, finding her in her father's library. Her father has been guillotined, and Blanche has been forced to serve her former servants.

The nuns are all arrested and condemned to death, but Mother Marie is away at the time of the arrest. Upon receiving the news, the chaplain tells Mother Marie, when they meet again, that since God has chosen to spare her, she cannot voluntarily become a martyr by joining the others in prison.

At the place of execution, the nuns (one by one) slowly mount the scaffold, singing the "Salve Regina" ("Hail, Holy Queen"). At the last minute, Blanche appears, to Constance's joy, and joins the condemned community. Having seen all the other nuns executed, as she mounts the scaffold, Blanche sings the final stanza of the "Veni CreatorSpiritus," "Deo Patri sit gloria...", the Catholic hymn traditionally used when taking vows in a religious community and offering one's life to God.