By Robert Lyall
Of the eleven operatic works composed by Peter Tchaikovsky, for his sixth he chose a subject that was an attempt to participate in the immense popularity of French Grand Opera, one of the most commercially successful styles dominant in Europe throughout the 19th century. This specific style of writing viewed the subject of opera as based in history:
“The identification of historical themes in the tragic repertory of grand opera—revolution, regicide, victimization, religion, patriotism, and the nation–loom large in its pages.” –Sarah Hibberd.
The Maid of Orléans recounts the life and amazing military career of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), whose victory ending the siege of Orléans in May 1429, helped bring to a close the Hundred Years War. Claiming that the divine voices of Saints Marguerite and Catherine and the Archangel Michael had directed her destiny, the seventeen-year-old warrior-maiden successfully led the French army in its efforts to drive the English and Burgundian forces from the homeland. For his largely historically accurate political narrative, Tchaikovsky drew basic material from Friedrich Schiller’s play, Die Jungfrau von Orleans (The Maid of Orléans). Serving as his own librettist Tchaikovsky took occasional liberties to heighten what is already a wildly operatic drama presented against that “grand” backdrop of “victimization, religion, patriotism, and nation” mentioned above. The result is truly French Grand Opera in spirit, tone, and style—from the grandeur of the Coronation scene, the religious fervor of Joan’s divine revelations, her widely-acclaimed bravery in battle, to her tragic end with an Inquisition trial whose horrifying verdict is that she die at the stake for heresy. While the added theatrical dynamic of Joan’s attraction to the Burgundian knight Lionel is almost certainly historically invalid, a love duet is readily recognizable as an essential operatic device to display the fullest emotional range of the individual characters—even one as virtuous as Joan. What is truly authentic is the glorious radiance of Tchaikovsky’s music.
The image above is a set rendering by designer, Stephen C. Kemp representing Act IV Scene II.
To see the cast listing and purchase tickets click here.
This production marks the American Premiere of the English Language Translation of Tchaikovsky’s Joan of Arc by Richard Balthazar.
RICHARD BALTHAZAR, Translator: Being the first Russian major at Tulane (class of ’64), prepared Richard for translating Tchaikovsky’s opera Joan of Arc (twice), and for graduate study and teaching briefly. After many decades working in nonprofit arts administration around the country, in later life he took to peddling “used” (recycled) plants at the Farmers Market in Santa Fe NM. On retiring in 2013, Richard was finally able to focus on his long-time avocations of writing and art. Besides several books and memoirs, his ongoing project is a fairly weird informational art show called YE GODS! Icons of Aztec Deities.
We express appreciation to the Music Library of the Canadian Opera Company for the use of some of their production materials.