Verdi’s Joan of Arc Returns to Mexico After 167 Years

Verdi’s Joan of Arc Returns to Mexico After 167 Years

▲ The National Opera Company (CNO) is opening its 2024 season today with a new production. The event forms part of celebrations marking the 90th anniversary of the Palace of Fine Arts. The production will be staged once again on the 13th and 15th of this month. Tenor Ramón Vargas (far left) leads the cast, alongside soprano Karen Gardeazabal and Romanian baritone Mihai Damian.Photo courtesy of Inbal

Over one and a half centuries since its last performance in Mexico, Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc), one of Giuseppe Verdi’s earliest and least performed operas, is set to be staged again. The last performance of this opera in Mexico dates back to 1857, at the now non-existent Gran Teatro Nacional in the capital city.

The new production marks the beginning of the 2024 season of the National Opera Company (CNO). It also commemorates the 90th anniversary of the Palace of Fine Arts, where two additional performances will take place on the 13th and 15th of February.

The staging also celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Fine Arts Opera Studio, founded by tenor Ramón Vargas. Vargas leads the cast of the production, which also includes soprano Karen Gardeazabal and Romanian baritone Mihai Damian.

Juliana Vanscoit from Mexico and Italian Fabiano Pietrosanti are responsible for the staging. The pair are repeating their successful collaboration, following the acclaimed performance of The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet in May last year at the same venue.

During the general rehearsal on Thursday afternoon, it was observed that the stage creators opted for a symbolic, poetic, and minimalist style rather than a realistic or historical one. This approach allows them to delve deeper into the life of the legendary French warrior, martyr, and saint, Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for heresy at the age of 19, and is recognized for her crucial role in the crowning of Charles VII and the liberation of France from English rule during the closing stages of the Hundred Years’ War.

The opera is set in the mid-15th century, a fact that is clearly reflected in the design of the costumes, weapons, and other items used on stage, which is largely devoid of props.

Only a few scenic elements are visible, such as a pair of giant rocks or a platform. The main feature, however, is a screen that spans the entire back of the stage, onto which images are projected to help set the scene. These images range from a large map of Europe from that era, to a forest, or a landscape with the towers of an ancient castle in the distance.

Noteworthy are the large-scale reproductions of a sword and its hilt, which are displayed separately on the stage. Initially floating and then placed in various positions, they subtly emphasize the wartime context.

Renaissance Atmosphere

Another notable aspect is the understated color palette used by Vanscoit and Pietrasanti. The palette, based on shades of ocher, gives the images an antique appearance. The subtle lighting design, featuring a level of darkness and interplay of light and shadow, at times lends a mystical quality to the atmosphere, reminiscent of Renaissance paintings.

First performed in 1845 at the Teatro de la Scala in Milan, Giovanna D’Arco is Verdi’s seventh opera. It tells the story of Charles VII, King of France, who after suffering numerous defeats at the hands of English soldiers, encounters Giovanna, the daughter of a local shepherd, who aspires to liberate France.

Despite facing rejection from her father, who fears she will succumb to the devil’s temptation and aspire to be the king’s lover, Giovanna fulfills her vow. She does so, however, at the cost of renouncing her earthly love. The ending of the opera deviates from historical fact: Giovanna dies from a battle wound, not at the stake.

Bass Alejandro López and tenor Alberto Galicia, both former beneficiaries of the Fine Arts Opera Studio, are also part of this production. The Choir and Orchestra of the Fine Arts Theater, under the concert direction of Felix Krieger, are also participating.

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