Can this once-famous spectacle be revived?
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 06/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Honegger wrote his 'Joano f Arc at the Stake' as a mixed-media event in 1935, combining poetry, dramatic narration, the musical forces of a huge oratorio, and many quirky popular styles, including jazz. The orchestra contains saxophones instead of French horns, and to add to the horror-movie tone he wanted at times, there's a spooky ondes martinots whose shrieks can pierce through lead walls. Once famous and still performed in France, Jeanne d'Arc has been neglected on CD recently.
This live 1989 concert performance from a cavernous but effective French cathedral under Seiji Ozawa gives the work its best chance for being revitalized. Joan doesn't sing, and her fervent, anxious, tormented, ecstatic outpourings are terrifically dramatized by the actress Marthe Keller. The singing parts belong to minor characters, all done very well, and there's male narration by a sympathetic monk, Brother Dominic, telling the story in cinematic flashback.
The flashy mixture of styles can be off-putting, with Honegger juxtaposing jazz and Gregorian chant, folksongs and high religiosity--the latter searingly sincere, however. He wanted the piece to speak to the common man and woman, he said, and for seven decades it has. The story of Joan of Arc seems to be too agonizing to appeal to audiences right now, but there's hair-riasing intensiyt here, and even if Honegger's musical materials aren't inspired, they are forceful. I wonder if listeners will discover this highly theatrical work anew?"
A great neglected work
J. McCarthy | Sydney, Australia | 02/07/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a marvelous work. A part opera, part oratorio using Joan of Arc as the subject. It is full of life and energy with some wonderful effects. There are speaking and singing parts and it is all done in that wonderfully extravagant French declamatory style. A heady and compelling experience. The performance is top rate as well.Arthur Honegger: Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher"