Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Voices of Light

An Oratorio with Silent Film
Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley Campus
Sunday, November 23, 7:30 PM


Bay area residents will get one more chance to see the magnificent pairing of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc(1928) with a live performance of Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, an oratorio inspired by the life of Joan of Arc, on Sunday November 23rd. The Castro previously hosted a performance on the 17th. While Criterion has issued a DVD that couples the two, viewing the film on the big screen while listening to the music performed live, elevates the experience of watching The Passion of Joan of Arc to a spiritual one, the experience that Dreyer intended for his audience.

Dreyer based the film on the transcriptions of Joan's trial, condensing the action down to a few days from the actual seventy days. Dreyer shot the film almost entirely in close-ups, while using a brusque editing technique and a non-traditional style of framing in his cinematography, all of which instills an intense uneasiness. The combination of these cinematic elements also accomplishes both an overwhelming identification with the heroine's point of view and a direct emotional understanding of her fear, as she struggles to maintain her integrity under unimaginable psychological, physical and religious pressures. Maria Falconetti, as Joan, perfectly realizes this struggle with her quietly understated but deeply felt performance.
Einhorn's oratorio, performed by the U.C. Men's & Women's Chorales and the Perfect Fifth and Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Mark Sumner, adds tremendously to Dreyer's depiction of Joan's resistance against her judges. Einhorn's libretto draws on the writings of medieval female mystics, including Joan's. In addition to using soloists, chorus, and an orchestra to bring this creation alive, the piece employs a sample of the church bell of Domremy, Joan's birthplace. Einhorn specifically wrote this oratorio to accompany the film, however, the music could stand on its own as an artistic depiction of Joan of Arc's last and most personal battle.
While the film depicts the martyrdom of a saint, it also depicts a timeless theme with which the believer and non-believer can identify, the moral bravery of an individual in the face of political tyranny. Go early as tickets are only available at the door and the Castro event did sell out. Sincere thanks to The University of California Alumni Chorus and the Pacific Film Archive for staging these performances.