For decades, it was assumed Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc had been lost forever, the original version consumed by flames like the biopic's central character. But in 1981, gathering dust in the back of a janitor's closet in an Oslo mental institution, a complete copy was found.
The Passion of Joan of Arc depicts the last days in the life of martyr Jeanne d'Arc, a young peasant who claimed to have been instructed by God to fight England for France's autonomy during the Hundred Years War. Burned at the stake and later crowned a saint by the Catholic Church, Joan has been painted as both a strong-willed feminist icon and a treacherous witch by centuries of artists from Shakespeare to Shaw. Passion has long been critically lauded for its avant-garde flourishes like frequent close-up shots and no makeup, which acutely convey the emotion of Joan's final days in prison on trial for heresy.
Inspired by the film and Renee Falconetti's harrowing performance as Joan, modern composer Richard Einhorn set out to make an orchestral soundtrack. Since Joan had heard voices, Einhorn crafted his composition to prominently feature a chorus and a quartet of soloists singing texts taken from the trial and from the writings of female medieval mystics. Voices of Light premiered in 1994 to sold-out audiences in western Massachusetts and was later recorded by the Netherlands Radio Orchestra and Choir for release on Sony's Criterion Collection DVD.
This weekend Boise Philharmonic and Boise Master Chorale team up to perform Einhorn's oratorio with the glow of Dreyer's black-and-white film flickering in the background. Though the philharmonic has collaborated with the chorale in the past, the scale of this event—a 90-person chorus and an 85-person orchestra—outshines any past project.
"It's definitely more of a production," explains Tina Kierce, Boise Philharmonic's marketing director. "Not only do you have the orchestra, but you also have a full chorus and then you have soloists. All of this has to be intertwined and, of course, has to be set to the movie."
These performances will also mark the first time these organizations have collaborated under the leadership of the orchestra's new maestro.
"What I'm personally excited about is this is our first chance to work with Robert Franz," said Boise Master Chorale director Jim Jirak. "We're looking forward to his leadership and musicianship. While it is exciting to prepare this very dramatic work for Treasure Valley audiences, we're also thrilled to meet a new musical friend in the community."
Franz personally selected local brother and sister soloists Leslie Mauldin (soprano) and John Mauldin (tenor), as well as local husband and wife soloists Michele (mezzo) and Jason Detwiler (baritone) for the project. The group has practiced for months to not only perfect their Latin and Old French accents, but also to nail Einhorn's difficult vocal score.
"I knew that Joan of Arc's voice would have to have a very special sound," wrote Einhorn on his Web site. "Since no one knows what she looked like, I decided we shouldn't be 'range-ist' and make any assumptions about whether she was a soprano or alto. Therefore, Joan had to be both soprano and alto singing simultaneously."
Though Franz previously performed Voices of Light with another orchestra, he's thrilled to bring the piece to his new home and to launch a pattern of collaboration with local arts organizations that will stretch far into the philharmonic's upcoming '09 season.
"When the maestro came on here, he said, 'This is really a great performance. It will take their breaths away,'" explained Kierce. "I really think it's going to."
Friday, Jan. 23, pre-concert talk with Jamey Lamar at 6:50 p.m., performance at 8 p.m., $16-$31, the Brandt Center's Swayne Auditorium, Northwest Nazarene University, 707 Fern St., Nampa. Saturday, Jan. 24, pre-concert talk with Steve Trott at 7 p.m., performance at 8:15 p.m., $20-$61, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. For more information, call 208-344-7849 or visit boisephilharmonic.org.