I’m not totally sure I can write this review, and regardless of what I write, I’m not sure anybody who was not at Strathmore last night will be able to understand what happened there. I left in tears. I was crying so hard that I gave up trying to wipe the tears off my face, despite the fact that they were flowing so fast and hard that my clothes were drenched. I could not remember where I parked my car. When I found it, I just sat and cried until I realized I was about the only one left in the garage. Even then, I was not sure that I should or could drive home.
Last night I was at The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert at Strathmore –Voices of Light – The Passion of Joan of Arc – more specifically an oratorio with silent film. The film was the Carl Theodor Dreyers 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. The music was composed by Richard Einhorn, who conceived of his project in 1988. Six years later, in 1994, the finished work, consisting of the film, four solo voices, chorus, and full orchestra, received its premiere in Northampton, Massachusetts, and has since been performed throughout the world.
The BSO performance, conducted by Marin Alsop, featured first and foremost, the film The Passion of Joan of Arc, along with soprano Julie Bosworth, mezzo-soprano Janna Critz, tenor Tyler Lee, baritone David Williams, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and the one and only Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing the music of Richard Einhorn.
It has been written that Renée Jeanne Falconetti, who played the part of Joan in The Passion of Joan of Arc, refused to ever work in a film again after her experience in this film. Perhaps, as Roger Ebert says, this was because of the physical demands required of her in this role. After seeing the film, I believe that the emotional toll had to be greater. Honestly, I don’t know how the musicians performing last night were able to keep going. When BSO concertmaster Jon Carney took his solo right after Joan admitted that she had lied because she was afraid that continuing to stand by truth would mean that she would burn at the stake, I didn’t know if he would be able to keep playing. I kept hoping that Marin would not look up at the film for the same reason. The singers were incredible most of the time, but when I noticed one getting into a little trouble with pitch, I actually sympathized with the emotional pressure she was under.
I’m not sure who could possibly have been at this BSO performance last night without already knowing the story of Joan of Arc going into it. Coming out, I think all of us had a better understanding of a real live person named Joan of Arc, who really did burn at the stake rather than compromise her religious beliefs. My understanding remains painful, but let’s face it, there’s a story, and then there is life.
In spite of my own emotional state leaving Strathmore last night, I do recall hearing reactions from various audience members walking near me. Some indicated that Joan was obviously mentally ill. Some said that she was a saint. Others said that there are no saints. One man said that the movie The Passion of Joan of Arc should not have been shown and that it should be banned forever. All I could think about was that despite any of these comments, it is an inarguable and well-documented fact that Joan of Arc was a very real person who was born in 1412, and that she was in fact burned at the stake in 1431, at just 19 years of age, not because she ever truly was a transvestite, and not because of her religious beliefs. It had to do with her being politically inconvenient, and it had to do with people being willing to sacrifice one another for power. It’s 600 years later, and the world is still learning.
Featured Picture: Renee Jeanne Falconetti as Joan of Arc.
Check out upcoming Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Concerts at Strathmore and the Meyehoff using this handy Season at a Glance Calendar. Tickets may be purchased online at BSO.org, by calling the BSO Box Office at (410) 783-8000, or by calling the Strathmore Box Office at (301) 581-5100.
The Music Center at Strathmore
5301 Tuckerman Lane
North Bethesda, MD 20852
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
1212 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Watch Marin Alsop discuss Voices of Light – The Passion of Joan of Arc.