Giovanna d'Arco (Joan of Arc) is an operatic dramma lirico with a prologue and three acts by Giuseppe Verdi set to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, who had prepared the libretti for Nabucco and I Lombardi. It is Verdi's seventh opera.
|Opera by Giuseppe Verdi|
Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII
by Jean-Auguste Ingres, 1855 (The Louvre)
|Based on||Schiller's play Die Jungfrau von Orleans|
15 February 1845
Teatro alla Scala, Milan
The work partly reflects the story of Joan of Arc and appears to be loosely based on the play Die Jungfrau von Orleans by Friedrich von Schiller. Verdi wrote the music during the autumn and winter of 1844/45 and the opera had its first performance at Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 15 February 1845.
This opera is not to be confused with Rossini's cantata of the same name, which was composed in 1832 for contralto and piano, and runs approximately 15 minutes.
By the middle of the 19th century, the story of Joan of Arc had served as the basis for many operas, including those of Nicola Vaccai (1827) and Giovanni Pacini (1830), both of which were strongly reminiscent of Schiller's play. Solera was asked by Verdi's publisher, Giovanni Ricordi, for assurances that his libretto violated no copyright, noting that he had heard of a French treatment of the subject. Solera denied that Schiller's play was the source of his work and wrote that the work was "an entirely original Italian drama […] I have not allowed myself to be imposed upon by the authority either of Schiller or Shakespeare […] My play is original" (emphasis in original). Musicologist Julian Budden believes that "invention was not Solera's strong suit" and describes Solera's work as "merely Schiller diluted". He criticized the flow of the libretto compared to the play, writing that "characters are reduced to a minimum" and "for poetry and humanity we are given theatrical sensationalism".
The first Giovanna was Erminia Frezzolini, who had previously appeared in Verdi's I Lombardi alla prima crociata two years earlier. She was paired with her husband, tenor Antonio Poggi, as Charles, King of France. Baritone Filippo Colini portrayed Giovanna's father Giacomo. Verdi himself thought highly of the opera but was unhappy with the way it was staged and "with the deteriorating standards of Merelli's productions" overall. Due to Merelli's underhand negotiations to acquire the rights to the score from Ricordi, the composer vowed never to deal with the impresario nor set foot on the stage of La Scala again. La Scala did not stage another Verdi premiere until the revised version of Simon Boccanegra 36 years later.
For the opera's first production in Rome, three months after the Milan premiere, the papal censor required that the plot be cleared of any direct religious connotations. The title was changed to Orietta di Lesbo, the setting was shifted to the Greek island and the heroine, now of Genoese descent, became a leader of the Lesbians against the Turks. Performances under this title were also given in Palermo in 1848.
For the next 20 years Giovanna d'Arco had steady success in Italy, with stagings in Florence, Lucca, and Senigallia in 1845, Turin and Venice in 1846, Mantua in 1848, and Milan in 1851, 1858, and 1865. It was also presented elsewhere in Europe, Over the course of the nineteenth century, stagings declined to a very few.
20th and 21st centuries
In 1951 Renata Tebaldi sang the title role in Naples, Milan (a studio-recorded broadcast) and Paris, in a tour that led to further revivals. The US premiere was given in March 1966, in a concert performance at Carnegie Hall, New York, with Teresa Stratas in the title role. Its first stage performance in the US was given in 1976 by Vincent La Selva at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It received its UK premiere at the Royal Academy of Music in London on 23 May 1966.
Fully staged productions were mounted by the San Diego Opera in June 1980 as part of its short-lived "Verdi Festival", and by the Royal Opera, London in June 1996 with Vladimir Chernov as Giacomo and June Anderson as Giovanna. In September 2013, Chicago Opera Theater staged performances of the opera.
La Scala, Milan, presented the opera for the first time in 150 years in 2015 in a new production with Anna Netrebko in the title role. The Berliner Operngruppe under Felix Krieger presented the opera in March 2018 at Konzerthaus Berlin.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 15 February 1845|
(Conductor: – Eugenio Cavallini)
|Carlo VII, King of France||tenor||Antonio Poggi|
|Giacomo, shepherd and father of Giovanna||baritone||Filippo Colini|
|Talbot, an English Commander||bass||Francesco Lodetti|
|Delil, a French officer||tenor||Napoleone Marconi|
|French and English soldiers, French courtiers, villagers, nobles, angels, demons – Chorus|
Scene 1: The French village of Domrémy
Charles (the not-yet-crowned King of France) describes to his officers and the villagers his vision of the Virgin Mary commanding him to surrender to the invading English army and laying down his weapons at the foot of a giant oak tree. (Aria: Sotto una quercia parvemi – "Beneath an oak she appeared to me"). Later, he expresses his frustration with the limitations of being a ruler. (Aria: Pondo è letal, martirio – "A deadly burden, a torment").
Scene 2: A forest
By a giant oak tree, Giacomo prays for the safety of his daughter Giovanna, who before she falls asleep by a nearby shrine offers prayers to be chosen to lead the French forces. (Aria: Sempre all'alba ed alla sera – "always at dawn and in the evening"). Suddenly, Charles arrives, prepared to lay down his arms at the base of the tree. Meanwhile, the sleeping Giovanna has visions in which angels ask her to become a soldier and lead France to victory (Tu sei bella, the Demons' Waltz). She cries out that she is ready to do so. Charles overhears her and thrills at her courage. Her father Giacomo weeps, believing that his daughter has given her soul to the Devil out of her devotion to the future King.
Scene 1: Near Reims
Commander Talbot of the English army tries to convince his discouraged soldiers that their imminent surrender to the French is not due to forces of evil. Giacomo arrives and offers up his daughter, believing her to be under the influence of the Devil: Franco son io ("I am French, but in my heart…") and So che per via dei triboli ("I know that original sin").
Scene 2: The French court at Reims
Preparations are under way for Charles' coronation. Giovanna longs for her simple life back home. (Aria: O fatidica foresta – "O prophetic forest"). Charles confesses his love for Giovanna. She withdraws despite her feelings toward the King, because her voices have warned her against earthly love. Charles is taken to the Cathedral at Reims for his coronation.
The Cathedral square
The villagers of Reims have gathered in the Cathedral square to celebrate Giovanna's victory over the English army. The French soldiers lead Charles into the Cathedral. Giacomo has decided he must repudiate his daughter who, he believes, has entered a pact with the Devil. (Aria: Speme al vecchio era una figlia – "An old man's hope was a daughter"). He denounces her to the villagers (Aria: Comparire il ciel m'ha stretto – "Heaven has forced me to appear") and they are persuaded, although the King refuses to listen. Charles pleads with Giovanna to defend herself, but she refuses.
At the stake
Giovanna has been captured by the English army and is awaiting her death at the stake. She has visions of battlefield victories and begs God to stand by her, explaining how she has shown her obedience by forsaking her worldly love for the King as the voices had commanded. Giacomo overhears her pleas and recognizes his error. He loosens his daughter's bonds and she escapes. She rushes to the battlefield to turn French defeat into victory once more.
Giacomo pleads with the King, first for punishment and then for forgiveness, which Charles grants. Charles learns of the French victory on the battlefield but also of Giovanna's death. (Aria: Quale al più fido amico – "Which of my truest friends"). As her body is carried in, Giovanna suddenly revives. Giacomo reclaims his daughter, and the King professes his love. The angels sing of salvation and victory, as Giovanna dies and ascends into heaven.
Giovanna d'Arco is scored for piccolo (briefly doubling second flute), flute, two oboes (second doubling cor anglais), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, six or nine offstage trumpets, three trombones, cimbasso, timpani, snare drum, bass drum and cymbals (cassa), cymbals (piatti), triangle, bell, cannon, wind band, wind band of brass instruments only, offstage band, bass drum for band, harp, harmonium, strings.
Few scholars regard the quality of the music very highly. David Kimball writes: "For modern ears no opera illustrates more disconcertingly than Giovanna d'Arco the chasm between Verdi's best and worst music." He praises some of the solo and ensemble music, but finds that the choruses "embody 19th century taste at its most abysmal". Parker says that the musical emphasis was on Joan herself and includes some "powerfully original ensembles", but says that the choruses were "probably intended as a sequel to the grand choral tableau works Verdi and Solera had previously created together."
Baldini's assessment is mixed. He endorses Massimo Mila's view that the opera demonstrates "that way of making a hedonistic and vacuously melodious opera which was the norm in contemporary Italian theatres." Baldini found merit in Giovanna's cavatina in the Prologue where she prays to be chosen to lead the forces: Sempre all'alba ed alla sera ("always at dawn and in the evening"). Budden also calls it a work of "brilliant patches", says that "the best things in it surpass anything that Verdi had written up to that time", and finds the soprano part to be of "rare distinction" and the solo numbers and many of the ensembles to be of "high caliber".
Several recordings of live performances of Giovanna d'Arco have been released. The only studio recording dates from 1972 and features James Levine conducting with Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo, and Sherrill Milnes. Domingo sang the tenor role of Carlo on that recording and the baritone role of Giacomo in a live performance recorded in 2013 with Anna Netrebko.
Opera House and Orchestra
RAI Milano Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus
|Audio CD: Melodram|
London Symphony Orchestra,
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
|Audio CD: EMI Classics|
Vincenzo La Scola,
Teatro Comunale di Bologna Orchestra and Chorus.
(Staged and directed by German film maker Werner Herzog)
Teatro Regio di Parma
Philharmonia Chor Wien
|Audio CD: Deutsche Grammophon|
- Budden, p. 205.
- Budden, p. 205 ff.
- David Kimball (2001), in Holden, p. 983.
- Budden, p. 206.
- Kimbell (1981).
- George Martin, "Verdi Onstage in the United States: Giovanna d'Arco", The Opera Quarterly, 21 (2):242, 2005 (by subscription only).
- Prag, R., "Giovanna d'Arco. Giuseppe Verdi", The Opera Quarterly, 14 (2): 164, 1997.
- Osborne, p. 47.
- Weaver, p. 123 ff.
- Orietta di Lesbo in Palermo, on librettodopera.it: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 June 2015. Retrieved 19 June 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Performances in Italy[permanent dead link] on librettodopera.it. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
- Schoenberg, Harold C. (2 March 1966). "'Giovanna d'Arco,' Verdi Without a Spark". New York Times. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
- NYGO's repertoire: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 September 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- San Diego Opera's 1980 performance: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Chicago Opera Theater website: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 March 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- Maddocks, Fiona (13 December 2015). "Giovanna d'Arco review – a first night to remember at La Scala". The Observer. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- List of singers taken from Budden, p. 204.
- Parker, p. 430.
- Mila, p. 163, in Baldini, p. 98.
- Budden, p. 223.
- Recordings on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- "Giovanna d'Arco". Naxos.com.
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- Rizzuti, Alberto (ed.), "Giovanna d'Arco: Dramma lirico in Four Acts by Temistocle Solera", in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi (critical edition), Series 1: Operas. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009. ISBN 0-226-85330-6, ISBN 978-0-226-85330-7.
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