The story of Joan of Arc is told in many ways and in Verdi’s opera Giovanna d’Arco that story reflects the time and place in which it was written and audience expectations.
Joan (Giovanna) is not burned at the stake but escapes to lead her army to victory. She dies on the battlefield but is briefly revived to sing beautifully of her vision of her heavenly reward.
There is thwarted love between her and the king of France. The emotional centre of the opera is the relationship between Joan and her father who starts by seeing her as possessed by devils, denounces her to the English, then later repents and helps her escape from the enemy.
The whole production was of a high standard. The soloists all sang well. David Cecconi was impressive in the role of the father, Giacomo, as was Kate Ladner in the title role. The chorus was great, outsinging their limited numbers and excelling as devils and angels as well as soldiers and their women folk. The final appearance of the devils, in one of the upper boxes, was much appreciated though not visible to part of the audience. The set was excellent, composed of reflecting dark vertical surfaces high above which angels appeared in visions and the women of the chorus looked down on strife and battle and sang of pain and of victory.
The costumes were not consistent with each other in period but came together in a coherent whole, forming striking shapes on stage.
There is some lovely music in this rarely performed opera. It is no wonder that the chorus of demons and angels was played on barrel-organs in the street very soon after the first performance of the opera at La Scala.
Giovanna d’Arco continues at Buxton Opera House tonight (July 14), July 17, 21 and 24.