All hail Joan of Arc, in music -- but in London?

Thu Nov 3, 2011 7:31am EDT
 
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - This weekend concert and filmgoers in London can celebrate the upcoming 600th birthday of Joan of Arc, girl soldier and Maid of Orleans who donned male clothing, put on armor, rallied the demoralized French army and defeated the...English.

"It's important that we pay homage to history, so we don't repeat it again," American conductor Marin Alsop said, with a chuckle at the incongruity of praising St. Joan, who had visions from God and heard voices saying she should fight the English occupiers, on the home ground of her sworn enemies.

Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the only woman to head a major American orchestra, will lead the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in Swiss composer Arthur Honegger's rarely performed oratorio "Joan of Arc at the Stake."

The orchestra also will perform live a modern soundtrack for the 1928 Carl Dreyer silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" while Alsop and others will participate in discussions about the woman who elevated the child king Charles VII to the French throne and was burned at the stake as a heretic for her efforts.

"She's been embraced as an icon and a symbol by the far right and the far left and the feminists and the non-feminists," Alsop told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"She's a really fascinating historical figure because she's able to be adopted and molded to whatever interest a particular cause has. It also opens up a great discourse, and one that I often have to participate in, regarding women in unusual leadership roles."

Here's what else Alsop had to say about the lessons to be learned from the life of the virginal woman warrior, whom many scholars say was born in January 1412, why she has inspired painters, composers, writers and playwrights over the centuries, and what audiences will be missing if they don't hear the oratorio by Honegger, who also wrote music for film, flute and one of whose best known pieces is a "symphonic movement" for a steam engine.

Q: So she was basically a complete nutter, no, whose luck ran out when everyone, including the French, ganged up on her and lit the bonfire in Rouen?   Continued...