Verity Sharp presents Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco from La Scala in Milan, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. Plus the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra performing Chausson's Viviane.
Verity Sharp presents today's Thursday Opera Matinee: Riccardo Chailly conducts the opening of La Scala's season - his first as the opera house's principal conductor. He's chosen Giovanna d'Arco, a relative rarity by Verdi, which was first performed at La Scala in 1845 and anticipates his more famous Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlo. Loosely based on the life of Joan of Arc, it centres round Giovanna, told by angels to lead the French army to victory, and Carlo, future king of France who is in love with her. The cast includes Anna Netrebko and Devid Cecconi. Plus more from this week's featured ensemble, the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, with Chausson's symphonic poem, Viviane.
Thursday Opera Matinee
Verdi: Giovanna d'Arco
Giovanna ..... Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Carlo VII ..... Francesco Meli (tenor)
Giacomo ..... Devid Cecconi (baritone)
Talbot ..... Dmitry Beloselskiy (bass)
Delil ..... Michele Mauro (tenor)
La Scala Chorus
La Scala Orchestra
Riccardo Chailly (conductor)
Chausson Viviane, Op.5
Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
Joshua Weilerstein (conductor).
A chorus of soldiers and townspeople laments the poor fortunes of the war and curses the English who have invaded their land. Orléans is also under siege and is about to fall. King Charles VII enters; downcast and sorrowful, he announces his intention to surrender to the enemy. He then gives an account of a dream that he has had of a voice telling him to place his helmet and sword at the foot of the image of the Virgin in a country chapel in the middle of the forest. The chorus of townspeople, somewhat surprised, observes that such an image exists in a wild, gloomy clearing nearby. The king decides to go there, while the chorus tries in vain to dissuade him.
In a sinister and scary atmosphere, Giacomo, Giovanna’s father, enters the forest clearing. He is secretly following his daughter, whom he suspects of having given her soul to the forces of Evil. Giovanna herself arrives and, as she does every day, she kneels in front of the image of the Virgin to ask for one blessing: arms to fight for her country. Then she falls asleep. Charles enters, and after laying his helmet and sword before the chapel, he kneels in prayer. Next the “voices” that agitate Giovanna’s sleep are heard: firstly, a chorus of demons accompanied by the band and the triangle; then a chorus of angels accompanied by the harp and the harmonium. Suddenly, Giovanna awakes, and after taking up Charles’ arms, she sings a cabaletta full of warlike enthusiasm to which the king and Giacomo add their voices, the former full of amazement and admiration, the latter scornful and angry.
A remote place
The scene moves to the camp of the English who have been defeated by the French army led by Giovanna. Giacomo arrives in a state of extreme agitation. He promises the English to deliver the bold and guilty Giovanna into their hands.
A Garden at the court in Rheims
Giovanna has come outside in order to escape the celebrations taking place in the palace. She is in love with the king and her turmoil is expressed simultaneously by the angelic and devilish voices already heard in the prologue. Just as Giovanna takes the decision to leave the court and to return to her father in their humble village, the king enters and the couple declare their love for each other while the mysterious voices keep tormenting the heroine.
The square in Rheims
The people gather to witness the coronation ceremony. After the triumphal march, which accompanies the passing of the royal procession, Giacomo declares his intention to denounce Giovanna’s guilt before all. From the cathedral a hymn is heard signalling the end of the ceremony, and soon Giovanna emerges followed by the king who tries to calm her. When Charles invites the people to pay homage to the saviour of France, Giacomo bursts out with his terrible accusation: Giovanna is impure and sacrilegious. In the general amazement, Charles invites Giacomo to provide proof of his allegations. Then Giacomo demands three times that Giovanna refute his accusations, if she can: is it not true that she is guilty? Confused, she says nothing and her silence is taken as proof of her guilt.
Inside a fortress in the English camp
In her prison, Giovanna lies in chains. Hearing the noise of the battle nearby, she begs God to allow her to run to the aid of the French for one last time. Giacomo, who has entered unseen, listens to Giovanna’s prayer and understands that his accusations have been unjust. He frees his daughter and is reconciled with her, offering her his own sword. Giovanna rushes out to join the battle, which is described by Giacomo through the dramatic device known as teichoscopy. Then Charles enters, once more victorious thanks to Giovanna’s help. However, shortly afterwards comes the news of the heroine’s death, and a funeral march is played as her body is brought forward for all to see. In reality, Giovanna is not yet dead and she sings her last words in an atmosphere of ecstatic rapture and collective apotheosis.
- With thanks to La Scala, Milan