Dialogues des Carmélites (Dialogues of the Carmelites) is an opera in three acts with music and libretto by Francis Poulenc. It is the story of the Martyrs of Compiègne, Carmelite nuns who, in 1794 during the closing days of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, were guillotined in Paris for refusing to renounce their vocation.

Arrested in 1794 as part of the Revolution’s lethal hostility to religion, they were tried without counsel on July 17. They were quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. Later in the evening, they were killed by the guillotine. The Martyrs of Compiègne were beatified on May 27, 1906. They were the first martyrs of the French Revolution to be so recognized by the Holy See. Their feast day is 17 July. On February 22, 2022, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Beauvais announced that Pope Francis had accepted the procedure of equipollent canonization for the Martyrs of Compiègne, by which they could be canonized as saints without recognition of a miracle attributed to their intercession.

The last scene of Poulenc’s opera depicts the execution of the nuns. Each death is marked by the thud of the falling blade of the guillotine until all are dead. As they march to their execution they sing the Salve Regina. The scene is exrordinarily moving and is one of the reasons that Poulenc’s opera has maintained a place in the repertoire since its first performance at La Scala in 1957.

Dialogues des Carmélites finale