New York Premiere Staging of HONEGGER’S JOAN OF ARC AT THE STAKE with MARION COTILLARD and Actors from the Comédie–Française Directed by Côme de Bellescize
Continuing the Philharmonic’s recent emphasis on staged productions of operatic and theatrical works, the Orchestra will present the New York Premiere of director Côme de Bellescize’s staging of Arthur Honegger’s dramatic oratorio Joan of Arc at the Stake in season-finale performances, June 10–13, 2015, conducted by Alan Gilbert. The cast will include Academy Award–winning actress Marion Cotillard as Joan; Comédie-Française members Éric Génovèse as Brother Dominique and Christian Gonon as the Narrator; soprano Simone Osborne as Marguerite; mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman as Catherine; and tenor Thomas Blondelle and bass Steven Humes in multiple roles. The ensemble of actors and soloists will all make their Philharmonic debuts in these performances.
The staging is inspired by a gothic cathedral square: Joan and her stake are positioned on a platform in the middle of the orchestra where, just before dying, she watches flashbacks of her life unfold around her on a platform that surrounds the orchestra. In his production notes, Mr. Bellescize writes: “Joan is in the heart of the orchestra, and when the stake ignites, it is the music which burns Joan’s body and transforms her into a figure of divine love.”
French actress Marion Cotillard has said that she has long felt a connection to Joan of Arc in this telling; her mother, actress Niseema Theillaud, also portrayed Joan in Honegger’s oratorio. Ms. Cotillard has appeared as Honegger’s Joan twice before, both in concert versions: with the Orléans Orchestra in 2005 and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra in 2012.
Alan Gilbert said: “Marion Cotillard is one of my heroes and a brilliant actress. Joan of Arc is probably Honegger’s greatest work: it’s a dramatic and piercing telling of this most serious of stories. It’s such a pleasure to hear these scores played by the New York Philharmonic. There’s a lot to learn by having to tell a story through music, with the drama primary and forward rather than underpinning: it’s what we should be doing all the time.”
Côme de Bellescize said: “Honegger wrote this oratorio just before the Second World War, when it could have been a nationalistic opera: ‘We will resist! We will fight!’ But it’s really the opposite: it is about going out of the darkness and trying to find the light with the power of love. I am so happy to have the great chance to work with the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert. The whole world meets together in New York, and I think there is something universal to say with this production. It’s a great pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to work with Marion, especially for a play that has such meaning for her.”
Marion Cotillard said: “It is a great joy for me to be part of this tremendous adventure of Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher staged by the inspired Côme de Bellescize. Sharing this experience with the New York Philharmonic and the great actors Éric Génovèse and Christian Gonon will be an amazing journey. I want to warmly thank Alan Gilbert and Matthew VanBesien for offering us such a great opportunity. I feel so lucky and I am looking forward to sharing this work, which is, at this point, one of my greatest experiences as an actress.”
Mr. Bellescize first created this production of Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake for Japan’s Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in 2012. The project was initiated by festival director Seiji Ozawa (whom Alan Gilbert considers a mentor) and actress Isabel Karajan, who performed the title role in the 2012 production, as a tribute to her father, the late conductor Herbert von Karajan. Mr. Génovèse, Mr. Gonon, Ms. Osborne, and Mr. Blondelle also appeared in the 2012 production, and will reprise their roles in New York.
Arthur Honegger (1892–1955) joined the French Resistance during World War II, and although the Nazis allowed him to continue composing, he became depressed by the war and composed some of his most emotional works during and after. Originally commissioned by actress Ida Rubenstein in 1935, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) utilizes a libretto by French poet and playwright Paul Claudel.
The Philharmonic performed the U.S. Premiere of Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake in 1948 at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Charles Munch. Subsequent performances took place in 1958, led by Leonard Bernstein; in 1967, led by Seiji Ozawa, as part of the Orchestra’s 125th Anniversary celebrations and the Lincoln Center Festival; and in 1994, conducted by then Music Director Kurt Masur.