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Honegger's Woman Joan, a "Pretty Candle"?

Leave it to Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to pick and produce the most compelling concerts of our times. November 18, 2011, the Dresser and her friend composer Janet Peachey made their way through the two-hour gridlock DC-to-Baltimore traffic, no opportunity for dinner, to successfully arrive into the embrace of a packed Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in time to hear Arthur Honegger and Paul Claudel's Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher (Joan of Arc at the Stake). This rarely performed dramatic work with elements of oratorio and opera is a feast of musical styles that bring to mind Bach chorales, plainchant, folk music, and jazz. The production kicks off the 2012 celebration of the legendary Joan of Arc--heroine, soldier, and martyr--on her 600th birthday anniversary.

The assembly of musicians and singers for this work was awesome, a huge job for any conductor and stage director (James Robinson) to manage. However, it was apparent that Maestro Alsop loved the challenge and conducted an orderly and exciting concert. To understand the richness of musical texture, have a look at the orchestral makeup. The composition calls for an orchestra consisting of two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes, E flat clarinet, B flat clarinet, bass clarinet, three E flat saxophones, three bassoons, contrabassoon, D trumpet, three B flat trumpets, three trombones, bass trombone or tuba, two pianos, celesta, timpani, two percussion players (bass drum, cymbals, rattle, side drum, tamtam, tenor drum, triangle, woodblock), ondes Martenot (played by guest artist Cynthia Millar) and strings. Add to this array of exotic sound the Morgan State University Choir, the Peabody-Hopkins Chorus, the Peabody Children's Chorus, and the Concert Artists of Baltimore. The finishing figures were actors ActorImage.ashx.jpgCaroline Dhavernas (as Jeanne d'Arc--Joan of Arc) and Ronald Guttman (Brother Dominic) and featured singers soprano Tamara Wilson (The Virgin), soprano Hae Ji Chang (Marguerite), mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor (Catherine), tenor Timothy Fallon (Porcus), and bass Morris Robinson.

The libretto, which is in French but included English surtitles, is organized in eleven scenes. It follows a cinematic flashback path that includes a fantastic trial conducted by barnyard animals and a royal card game for the possession of Joan. Although the audience knows the terrible outcome of the story--that Joan will be burned at the stake, the tension builds throughout the scenes. Poetic lines that caught the Dresser's attention: "I myself will be a pretty candle." "This great flame is to be my bridal gown." "Is not Joan a great flame?" Lighting effects add to Joan's final scenes where she seems to be on fire and a transcendent spirit.

This program, which only had two performances in Baltimore, was also performed once at New York City's Carnegie Hall on November 19. Because of the successful blend of musical styles, poetry, and storytelling, the Dresser pronounces this concert the most compelling voice and music production she has seen in 2011.

In Yoko Danno's book trilogy & Hagoromo: A Celestial Robe, the emphasis is on a captured female figure who, unlike Joan of Arc, is not human, but forced to dwell among humans on earth. These fragmentary excerpts resonate with the emotional load delivered by the music of Arthur Honegger and the poetry of Paul Claudel in Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher.


SCENE SIX: A STONE

through
the
tight

air,

burning
and
glowing,

a stone falls

to
the
earth

at
rending

speed


SCENE SEVEN: A TREMBLING SHADOW

the wind
tears

the willow's
slender branches off

its trunk:

the ruffled
lake

reflects

a trembling
shadow
of

fear


SCENE EIGHT: A FLASH OF LIGHTNING

pregnant

clouds
gather round

the sun:

the darkening
sky

is split

by
a flash
of lightning

at birth

of
a bird

Yoko Danno
from trilogy & Hagoromo: A Celestial Robe

Copyright © 2010 Yoko Danno

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 20, 2011 12:41 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Lucia di Lammermoor, Girl Toy.

The next post in this blog is Synetic's Romeo and Juliet: kettle-of-fish-that-turned-your-heart.

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