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 both Nabucco and I Lombardi. It is Verdi's seventh opera.
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. After writing the music over the autumn and winter of 1844/45, Verdi's opera had its first performance at Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 15 February 1845.
Some scholars speculate on the reasons for Verdi's having chosen this subject. For example, Gabriele Baldini notes "the weighty presence of her father, first as violent enemy, later as tender comforter" (which re-introduces the father-daughter relationship first visible in Oberto) helps to explain the use of Schiller's "altered version" of history, many of the features of which bear no relationship to historical fact.
By the early 19th century, the story of Joan of Arc had appeared as an opera many times, including those of Nicola Vaccai (1827) and Giovanni Pacini (1830), both of which were strongly reminiscent of Schiller. Therefore Budden's telling comment that "invention was not Solera's strong suit" is meaningful in light of what happened next.
After hearing from Verdi's publisher, Giovanni Ricordi, that he would like an assurance that no French copyright might exist (given that he'd heard about a French play on the same subject), Solera, in his response to the publisher, denied any assertion that Schiller's play was the source, and he claimed 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". [his emphasis]
But musicologist Julian Budden, when (for instance) he refers to Joan dying on the field of battle rather than being burnt at the stake, makes it clear that some aspects of the libretto are "merely Schiller diluted". He is also somewhat critical of the overall flow of the libretto when compared to the play, complaining that "characters are reduced to a minimum" and "for poetry and humanity we are given theatrical sensationalism".
The original Giovanna was Erminia Frezzolini, who had previously appeared in Verdi's (and Solera'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 esteemed his work but was unhappy with the way it had been staged and "with the deteriorating standards of Merelli's productions" overall. In addition, due to Merelli's underhand negotiations to acquire the rights to the score from Ricordi, the composer vowed never again to deal with the impresario nor to set foot on the stage of La Scala. (Indeed, the Milan theatre would have to wait for 36 years to stage another premiere of a Verdi's work, the revised version of Simon Boccanegra).
For the opera's first production in Rome, three months after the Milan premiere, the plot had to be cleared of any direct religious connotations by order of the papal censor. 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, appearing in Florence, Lucca, and Senigallia in 1845, Turin and Venice in 1846, Mantua in 1848, Milan again three more times in 1851, 1858, and 1865. It was also presented elsewhere in Europe, but, as the century wore on, stagings declined to a very few.
20th century and beyond
In 1951 Renata Tebaldi played the title role in Naples, Milan (a studio-recorded broadcast) and Paris, in a tour that led to further revivals. However, the opera has only been rarely staged in modern times.
Its 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 (now of the New York Grand Opera) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. NYGO also gave the opera in 1983 and in 1995, the latter as part of its "Viva Verdi!" festival of all of the composer's operas in chronological order. It also 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.
2008 saw two productions: the Teatro Regio di Parma presented the opera as part of its "Festival Verdi", and a production was mounted in Rouen in France. It was also performed by Sarasota Opera in March 2010 as part of its "Verdi Cycle".
In September 2013, Chicago Opera Theater will stage performances of the opera. This will be preceded by a symposium on 15 September on the subject of the opera (with musical excerpts performed by the cast) which will be presented by the company and the Italian Cultural Institute. The event will feature Verdi experts Philip Gossett, Jesse Rosenberg and Alberto Rizzuti, the editor of the opera's critical edition produced by the University of Chicago.
|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|
- Time: 1429
- Place: Domrémy, Rheims and near Rouen, France
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 I seemed"). 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, although David Kimball puts it quite bluntly: "For modern ears no opera illustrates more disconcertingly than Giovanna d'Arco the chasm between Verdi's best and worst music." He continues by praising some of the solo and ensemble music, but finds that the choruses "embody 19th century taste at its most abysmal" to the point where this music was heard from barrel organs on the streets of Milan. While stating that the musical emphasis was on Joan herself and that there were some "powerfully original ensembles", Parker speculates that the choruses were "probably intended as a sequel to the grand choral tableau works Verdi and Solera had previously created together."
Baldini notes that there is slight musical value in the opera and that Verdi's contribution is at best superficial since it merely reflects (and here he quotes from Massimo Mila's 1958 work on Verdi) "that way of making a hedonistic and vacuously melodious opera which was the norm in contemporary Italian theatres." However, Baldini mentions one or two numbers which, in his opinion, have some merit. Among them is the 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."
Overall, Budden agrees with the opinions of the others noted above, but he does emphasize that while it is a work of "brilliant patches ... the best things in it surpass anything that Verdi had written up to that time" and he regards the soprano part to be of "rare distinction" and the solo numbers and many of the ensembles to be of "high caliber."
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)
- Baldini, p. 97
- Budden, pp. 205–207
- Solera to Giovanni Ricordi, (undated), in Budden, p. 205
- David Kimball (2001), in Holden, p. 983
- Budden, p. 206
- Kimbell (1981), p. ?
- 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, pp. 123–25.
- Orietta di Lesbo in Palermo on librettodopera.it
- Performances in Italy on librettodopera.it Retrieved 19 June 2013
- Warrack and West, p. ?
- NYGO's repertoire
- Bernard Holland, "Music Review: A Young Verdi's Bold and Vivid Joan of Arc", The New York Times, 11 May 1996.
- Donal Henahan, , "Opera: Verdi's Giovanna D'Arco", The New York Times, 28 October 1985.
- San Diego Opera's 1980 performance
- Parma's 2008 "Festival Verdi"
- Chicago Opera Theater website Retrieved 8 April 2013.
- List of singers taken from Budden, p. 204
- Parker, p. 430
- Baldini, p. 98
- Mila, p. 163, in Baldini, p. 98
- Budden, p. 223
- Recordings on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Baldini, Gabriele, (trans. Roger Parker), The Story of Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera. Cambridge, et al: Cambridge University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-521-29712-5
- Budden, Julian, The Operas of Verdi, Volume 1: From Oberto to Rigoletto. London: Cassell, 1984. ISBN 0-304-31058-1.
- Kimball, David (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Kimbell, David (1981), Verdi in the Age of Italian Romanticism, Cambridge University Press, 1981 ISBN 0-521-31678-2 ISBN 978-0-521-31678-1
- Osborne, Charles, Verdi: A Life in the Theatre. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987
- Parker, Roger, "Giovanna d'Arco" in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Two. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. 1998 ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Warrack, John and West, Ewan, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera New York: OUP: 1992 ISBN 0-19-869164-5
- Weaver, William, The Golden Century of Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1980 ISBN 0-500-27501-7 ISBN 978-0-500-27501-6
- Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane, Verdi: A Biography, London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1993 ISBN 0-19-313204-4
- Rizzuti, Alberto (ed.), "Giovanna d'Arco: Dramma lirico in Four Acts by Temistocle Solera", in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, Series 1: Operas. (The critical edition) Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009 ISBN 0-226-85330-6 ISBN 978-0-226-85330-7