Carl Th. Dreyer’s depiction of the trial and execution of a devout young French woman, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is considered, rightfully, one of the masterpieces of world cinema. Certainly, it is one of the greatest silent films.
Similarly, Maria Falconetti’s portrayal of the saintly Joan is hailed by many as one of the most moving, sublime, and even spiritual performances in film history. The one-time Bay Area film critic Pauline Kael described it as what “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film.”
On Saturday, March 31 , The Passion of Joan of Arc will be shown at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. The film will be accompanied by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who will perform Richard Einhorn’s orchestral choral work, Voices of Light. The Orchestra will be joined by the UC Choral Ensemble, directed by Mark Sumner.
Also included is a digital audio recording—made by the composer himself—of the ringing bell in Joan of Arc’s home church in France. The libretto for this haunting work comes from ancient writings by Joan of Arc and female medieval mystics.
At earlier performances, this critically-acclaimed work has brought sold-out houses to their feet at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, and at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland (in 2010).
The celebrated 81-minute silent film combines the actual written records of the trial of Joan with an at-times minimalist style that draws on expressionism and Soviet-style montage to create a visually breathtaking and emotionally intimate portrayal of a young woman’s interrogation and last moments.
Though made more than 80 years ago, the film seems timeless – as though it were filmed yesterday.
In 1929, the critic for the New York Times wrote, “… as a film work of art this takes precedence over anything that has so far been produced. It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams. It fills one with such intense admiration that other pictures appear but trivial in comparison.”
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Einhorn’s composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra matches in sublime fashion one of the great films of all time. The critic for the Albany Times Union called its oratorio of spiritual yearning “transcendent and extraordinary.”
For the March 31 presentation at Zellerbach Hall, Voices of Light will be conducted by Marin Alsop, the first woman to lead a major American orchestra. Soloists set to perform include Elinor Broadman, mezzo-soprano, Stacy Rutz, soprano, Genoa Starrs, mezzo-soprano, Michelle Lee, soprano, Daniel Ebbers, tenor, and Brian Leerhuber, baritone.
For more info: Voices of Light / The Passion of Joan of Arcis set to play on Saturday, March 31 at 8:00 pm at Zellerbach Hall on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Cal Performances is sponsoring the event. For additional details and ticket availability, visit http://www.calperfs.berkeley.edu/performances/2011-12/special-events/passion-of-joan-of-arc-baltimore-symphony-orchestra-voices-of-light.php
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has organized exhibits, contributed to books, appeared on television, and introduced the actress’s films around the world.