Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on Friedrich Schiller's The Maid of Orleans
Teatro Regio di Parma
Teatro Regio di Parma, Italy
Is Joan of Arc a saint? Or is she a sorceress? Has she made a pact with the devil and is she damned for eternity? Is she a virgin? Her dad certainly believes she is possessed by demons. He thinks he can save her soul by handing her over to the English.
For those of us who know about Joan of Arc only through plays by Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw and Jean Anouilh and films by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Otto Preminger, Luc Besson and, no doubt, many others, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera offers lots of surprises.
Joan falls in love with the king whom she meets in a forest frequented by demons. She is torn by her love for God and her love for a man. She does not get burnt at the stake. (I will repeat that. She does not get burnt at the stake.) She dies in battle. The opera ends with Giovanna being carried in a litter, dead, and then coming back to life to sing one more time before entering heaven.
The libretto is based on Friedrich Schiller's The Maid of Orleans, which premièred in 1801. Verdi’s Giovanna D’Arco premièred in 1845 at La Scala, Milan.
Gabriele Lavia’s production, conducted by Bruno Bartoletti, was seen at Regio Teatro in Parma in 2008 with Svetla Vassileva as Joan of Arc, Evan Bowers as King Charles and Renato Bruson as Giacomo, Joan’s father. The most convincing of the three is Renato Bruson.
There are some fine duets for Joan and Charles and also for Joan and Giacomo, which anticipate all those daughter / father scenes in Verdi’s later operas. The rousing, patriotic number for the chorus is absolutely right for his audience in 1845, who were as keen as he was for a united Italy.
The coronation in Rheims Cathedral has the spectacle operagoers expect. Giacomo denouncing his daughter and the king accusing her of witchcraft and him of blasphemy is high drama. This exciting trio and the ensemble which immediately follows is the high spot of the performance. Verdi sounds so good that momentarily you wonder why Giovanna D’Arco is not staged more often.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch