While the coming of the French Revolution was complex and extended, the storming of the Bastille in 1789 has become emblematic of its beginning, and it’s celebrated as a French day of independence. It’s an appropriate day to look at some of the many operas that deal with the French Revolution, most of them focusing on the Reign of Terror.

Francis Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmelites
Dialogues des Carmélites (1956) is recognized as one of the landmarks of 20th century opera. Poulenc’s tells the story of group of Carmelite nuns executed during the Reign of Terror. In spite of the grim subject, and one of the most viscerally shocking finales in opera, the music is largely characterized by an otherworldly serenity.
Dialogues des Carmélites: Mes filles, voilà que s’achève
Dialogues des Carmelites: Salve Regina (Finale)
Siegfried Matthus: Graf Mirabeau
The German composer Siegfried Matthus’ Graf Mirabeau (1989) is based on the life of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, a moderate who sought a reconciliation between the Revolutionaries and the Monarchy. Like so many of his compatriots, he fell victim to the hysteria that overtook the country. Matthus’ clever libretto and inventive music make Graf Mirabeau one of the most appealing modern German operas

xGottfried von Einem: Dantons Tod
Gottfried von Einem’s Dantons Tod (Danton's Death) was the first new German opera to be performed at the Salzburg Festival after the Second World War. Based on the play by Georg Büchner ( whose work also provided Berg the material for Wozzeck), the opera tells the story of the Revolutionary leader Georges Danton, who was executed during the Reign of Terror. Einem’s Post-Romantic expressionist score is descended from the tradition of Wozzeck.
Dantons Tod: Interlude
Dantons Tod: Danton! Danton!

GhostsJohn Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles
John Corigliano wrote The Ghosts of Versailles for the Metropolitan Opera in 1991, and it was one of their most elaborate premieres in many years, with an all-star cast. The librettist William Hoffmann created the fantastical story based on the characters in Beaumarchais’ The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, and Hoffmann inserted Beaumarchais as a character into the opera. It has received numerous productions and has proved one of the most durable new American operas.
Phantasmagoria, suite from The Ghosts of Versailles
BortzDaniel Bortz: Marie Antoinette
Swedish composer Daniel Börtz’s Marie Antoinette (1998) tells the dramatic story of the queen who was the most famous victim of the Reign of Terror. Börtz eclectic score uses a variety of styles, including 18th century music, to express the extremes of the protagonist’s fortunes.
Marie Antoinette: Excerpt
Marie Antoinette: Excerpt
Marie Antoinette: Ballroom Scene: