Not being a huge fan of opera, I hesitate to buy tickets for them. I watched a few on TV in my teenage years, and found then engaging but I had the advantage of being able to pop to and from the kitchen for snacks and having subtitles so that I could understand the plot and what they were singing. I recently attended a performance of Das Rheingold by Hong Kong Philharmonic and thoroughly enjoyed it. Well, I could see the orchestra and there were surtitles and helpful guides in the concert programme booklet!
This Saturday, I will go to Buxton, England to the Buxton Festival and see a colleague’s sister perform the title role in Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco. So, I had better figure out what it’s all about! It’s pretty helpful to watch a recorded production and have the libretto with English translation available in order to make out the story. Although I still won’t be able to understand what they’re singing, at least I’ll know what’s going on in each act!
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Librettist – Temistode Solera – after Schiller’s drama ‘Die Jungfrau von Orleans’
This opera is Verdi’s 7th and it premiered on 15th February, 1845 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. It is an opera in a prologue and three acts.
Scene 1 :French village of Dom Remy Carlo, the future king, describes his vision to the officers and villagers. He had a vision that the Virgin Mary tells him to surrender to the invading English army. He is to lay his weapons down at the base of a giant oak tree. He expresses his frustrations of being a ruler.
Scene 2: A forest at a giant oak tree, Giacomo prays for the safety of his daughter. Giovanna is at a nearby shrine and prays to be chosen to lead the French. Carlo arrives to lay his weapons at the tree. Giovanna has dreams where evil spirits question what she is doing and then angels say that her requests have been heard and prophecy her victory but warn her of earthly affections. She cries out that she is ready to lead the French and Carlo overhears her. Giovanna collects a helmet and sword. Giacomo weeps as he thinks his daughter has given her soul to the devil out of devotion to the future king.
Scene 1: Near Reims The commander of the English army tries to convince his soldiers that their imminent surrender to the French is not due to forces of evil. Giacomo, convinced of his daughter’s influence of the devil offers her to them.
Scene 2 – French court at Reims Giovanna questions her own lingering presence at Reims as she has surely done enough in battle. She longs for her simple life back at home. Carlo confesses his love for Giovanna. She finally admits her love for him but withdraws from him due to the warnings against earthly love from the angels. Soldiers enter and hand her the banner to go with Carlo when he makes his entrance to the coronation ceremony. Evil spirits come and taunt Giovanna.
The Cathedral Square Carlo is crowned King of France. Giacomo comes to disown his daughter and pray to God heartbroken but he feels this is what he must do. He denounces his daughter, Carlo tries to defend her but Giacomo convinces the villagers of the devilish influence. Carlo refuses to listen and asks Giovanna to defend herself but she is silent. She surrenders to her father who will take her to the pyre.
At English camp (imprisoned) Giovanna is captured by the English. She cries out to God, admitting she loved the king for a moment but her heart is devoted to God. Giacomo realises his mistake and helps her escape. She goes to the battlefield with Giacomo’s sword where she leads the French to victory.
Giacomo pleads with the king for his own punishment and forgiveness, which Carlo grants. The king learns of the french victory and Giovanna’s death. As her body is carried in Giovanna revives. Giacomo reclaims his daughter and the king professes his love. Giovanna asks to take the standard to heaven. She dies as her father and the king grieve. Angels sing of salvation and victory whereas the evil spirits sing of their torment as Giovanna ascends to heaven.