Voices of Light, an oratorio performed by the Princeton Festival Chorus and the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, accompanying a showing of Theodore Dreyer’s 1928 silent screen masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc and was performed in the soaring gothic splendor of the Princeton University Chapel.
First, the venue: I have had musicians tell me there is nothing like a solid stone building for acoustics. That appeared to be true as the sublime voices of the chorus seemed to linger in the air like a polyphonic mist. The enormous university chapel, considered by many experts to be one of the very finest examples of gothic architecture in this country, contributed the perfect setting for the telling of one of the most dramatic and important historical episodes of the Middle Ages.
Richard Einhorn’s magnificent oratorio was composed to “give voice” to one of the most unusual and brilliant films of all time – La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. A 1928 silent French film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. The film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan. It is widely regarded as a landmark of cinema and one of the finest in cinema history. The film recounts the finale of Joan of Arc’s life – her trial and execution.
Danish film director Dreyer was invited to make the film in France by the Société Générale des Films. He spent over a year researching Joan of Arc and the transcripts of her trial before writing the script. Dreyer’s final version of the film was cut down due to pressure from the Archbishop of Paris and from government censors. For several decades it was released and viewed in various re-edited versions that had attempted to restore Dreyer’s final cut. In 1981 a film print of Dreyer’s final cut of the film was finally discovered in a mental institution in Oslo, Norway and re-released, becoming a major critical success.
Put aside any preconceptions about silent movies such as scratchy film, too rapid movement, overstated, ham acting and cheap sets. Those qualities may apply to Mack Sennett comedies but not to Dreyer’s masterpiece. The use of lighting effects, and wonderfully versatile facial expressions told a story so vivid as to almost render the minimal subtitles unnecessary.
Finally we come to the best part of the evening – the music: Search far and wide for a chorale that is more technically perfect, more capable of an ethereal quality than the Princeton Festival Chorus and you will search far indeed. Directed by Carmen-Helena Telléz, both chorus and orchestra performed flawlessly.
Soloists Jessica Beebe (soprano,) Eve Gigliotti (mezzo-soprano,) Casey Finnigan (tenor,) ad Christopher Job, (Bass) completed the performance, each contributing a highly polished and beautiful performance.
The Princeton Festival, running through the month of June, offers an amazing variety of performances and presentations. Check the website for full details. http://princetonfestival.org/