Music & Film Preview: THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC & VOICES OF LIGHT (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 16, 2014

in Film,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 silent French film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc, opened to rave reviews, but the actual footage was plagued for over half a century. Before its French premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Soon after the release, a studio fire destroyed the film’s original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer’s original cut existed. The Danish director patched together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. But in a 1929 lab fire, this version was also destroyed.


A 61-minute version, released in 1933, had new narration and no intertitles. In 1951, a copy of the negative of Dreyer’s second version was found in the Gaumont Studios vaults, but several significant changes were made, including a new musical score (by Bach, Albinoni, and Vivaldi) and intertitle alterations. The next version of the film had Arnie Krogh of the Danish Film Institute cut together scenes and sequences from several different available prints to attempt to create a version that was as true to Dreyer’s original cut as possible.

Then in 1981, several film canisters were found in a janitor’s closet in a mental institution in Oslo. They were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they sat unexamined for three years. It was then discovered that they were Dreyer’s original cut prior to government or church censorship (with no records of the film being shipped to Oslo, film historians surmise that the then director of the institution may have requested a special copy since he was also a published historian).


The rediscovery of Dreyer’s masterpiece may be an astounding event, but just as awesome is Los Angeles Master Chorale’s happening this Sunday, Dec. 19. LAMC will perform composer Richard Einhorn’s 1994 oratorio Voices of Light while the digitally remastered film is shown in all its glory. Music Director Grant Gershon will lead 115 choristers and orchestra in the one hour and forty-five-minute intermissionless program. The five featured soloists are sopranos Hayden Eberhart and Claire Fedoruk, mezzo soprano Adriana Manfredi, tenor Daniel Chaney, and baritone Abdiel Gonzalez. “It seems particularly fitting to present this intense and influential film in the movie capital of the world,” Gershon said.


The haunting, extraordinary film looks like it was made only yesterday. It has an utterly contemporary visual style, raw emotional power, and naturalistic acting. This is the second and final film of theater actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti. Of her searing portrayal of Joan, film critic Pauline Kael wrote: “(It) may be the finest performance ever recorded on film.” At Disney Hall, the movie will be projected in two locations and visible from every seat in the house.

Einhorn’s libretto for Voices of Light is a patchwork of visions, fantasies, and reflections—a montage of ancient writings assembled primarily from female medieval mystics including Joan of Arc herself. The texts may be thought of as representing the spiritual, political, and metaphorical womb in which Joan was conceived. Influenced by the likes of Gorecki and Pärt, Einhorn’s skillful use of vocal parts was inspired by medieval song and instrumental writing based on layered minimalist note-patterns.


“We forget we’re watching a silent film,” wrote Einhorn. “We forget the technique and we get caught up entirely in the intensely human, passionate, tragic, yet deeply inspiring story of Joan. She truly was one of a kind.” The same could be said of Los Angeles Master Chorale, whose work equally appears as Divine intervention.

photos courtesy of LAMC

The Passion of Joan of Arc
Richard Einhorn | Voices of Light
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Grant Gershon, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave
Sunday October 19, 2014, at 7 pm
for tickets, call 213-972-7282 or visit LAMC

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