Marin Alsop was not likely predicting The Artist to win best picture when she was programming Richard Einhorn‘s Voices of Light which features Carl Theodor Dreyer‘s magnificent silent film of 1928, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Yet, silent films are undeniably having a moment. Even before The Artist danced into the hearts of movie-goers, an undercurrent of silent film screenings with live score performance rippled through the Mid-Atlantic area even including the National Gallery of Art. Voices of Light demonstrates Maestra Alsop’s continued interest in classic silent films and the accompanying scores. Last year, the BSO performed Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush to rave reviews. Co-occurring with the Women of the World-Baltimore Festival, Voices of Light is an excellent iteration of this year’s BSO theme: women who take risks.
Maestra Alsop, herself, is certainly one of those women who takes risks. She opened the performance last night by saying, “Every great city in the world deserves a great orchestra — and by that regard, we’re the greatest city in the world.” The Women of the World-Baltimore Festival and Voices of Light are just a couple of the great examples of why the BSO is at the prow of innovative American Orchestras. “Baltimore, under Marin Alsop, is definitely at the forefront of a growing trend to connect to the world of ideas,” said Judith Kurnick, vice president for strategic communications for the League of American Orchestras. “They certainly are pioneers.”¹ Symphony attendees this weekend will be met with a dedicated cast of orchestral musicians, vocal soloists, and the talented Baltimore Choral Arts Society singers.
Dreyer’s masterful The Passion of Joan of Arc is a haunting depiction of the trial of the 19-year-old martyr based on the original trial transcription. The lens’ focus drifts from face to face finding Joan the young, angelic warrior and her inquisitors grotesque and threatening. Maria Falconetti is completely riveting as Joan. Her eyes elucidate the terror, disappointment, and saintly surrender she endures throughout the process. Dreyer takes every opportunity to juxtapose Joan facing her judges with the allusion to the trials of Jesus Christ including a mock-crown that Joan wears in her cell, the guards jeering her, and the priests asking, “You call yourself the daughter of God?”
Informally known, none of the actors in the movie wear any makeup which was unheard of in the silent film era. Dreyer believed that it lent strength and realism to the character’s faces. It could be said that Einhorn took the same approach with the musical score to this film over 60 years later – a slight nod to minimalist composers. The score eschews all literalism to the film and uses repetitions of musical phrases to achieve its mystical quality. The slow build of motivic statements can seem meandering at points but ultimately builds to the pandemonium depicted while Joan burns at the stake. Misogynist texts of ancient French and Latin origin mingle with Joan’s letters in the libretto brilliantly sung by soloists Julie Bosworth (soprano), Janna Critz (mezzo-soprano), Tyler Lee (tenor), David Williams (baritone), and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. Bosworth and Critz were particularly effective and engrossing in their chant sections — voices blending together into one delicate, ethereal sound. Williams’ resonant baritone added the requisite gravitas to the scene in which Joan is forced to sign her confession. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society singers, under the direction of Tom Hall, were particularly sensitive to the dynamic shifts throughout. Jonathan Carney, violin, and Dariusz Skoraczewski’s respective solos soared, writhed, and sailed with kinetic force.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs Voices of Light Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 with the Saturday night performance at the Strathmore.