Bowling Green Opera Theater pays tribute to Carmelite nuns

The Bowling Green Opera Theater presented “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” the true story of how 16 Carmelite nuns made the ultimate sacrifice and brought about the end of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

Besides perfecting nearly two and a half hours of script, stage director Geoffrey Stephenson said the most challenging part of the performance was communicating the message of the opera as accurately and effectively as possible.

To ensure an accurate portrayal of the Carmelite nuns, Stephenson took his crew on a field trip to the Monastery of St. Therese in Detroit, where they learned to act like a Carmelite and the true message behind the opera.

“It’s very interesting to note that after this historical event, the Reign of Terror ended. After these 16 nuns where executed, the people of France stopped and took a look at what was going on around them and what they where doing,” Stephenson said. “There is no way of proving it was a cause and effect thing, but it’s important to think about when watching this opera because otherwise it does seem so tragic and senseless.”

Stephenson said “Dialogues of the Carmelites” was chosen because there are so many talented performers, and this particular opera has enough large roles to provide an opportunity for everyone to be heard.

Kevin Blysma, opera coach and instructor, said the opera isn’t just about how 16 nuns died in the name of God, but about the power of prayer.

“There’s this whole idea that prayer changes the nuns. Of course anybody approaching their death would be frightened, but the nuns believe this is the choice God has made for them and they accept it,” Blysma said. “They wouldn’t break down and cry on the guillotine, they would go to their destiny knowing that this is what is expected of them.”

Rachel Hamlin, who portrayed Sister Claire, said getting into character was especially hard because she had to try to imagine life through the eyes of a martyr.

“All of these women in some way wanted to die, they wanted to die for God,” Hamlin said. “The fact that it’s a true story makes it so much deeper. Most of the operas are all made up stories, but this is something that really happened, and we are paying tribute to these nuns.”