MAKING CHORAL MUSIC relevant to people who might not be seeking it out has become job one for the leaders of many of our local choirs. While opera features costumes, sets, and plot lines to entice folks, choral music is not typically heavy on visuals. In a stroke of brilliance, Brian Wismath, artistic director for Victoria’s Vox Humana Chamber Choir (VHCC), is staging a wonderfully unique and visual choral music experience in late March: a screening of the celebrated 1928 silent film classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied live by the film score (“Voices of Light” by Richard Einhorn), performed by Wismath’s impeccable 28-voice choir, soloists, and members of the Victoria Symphony.
Renee Falconetti as Joan
Wismath says Einhorn’s score is “considered so seminal that it’s included with the film’s Criterion Collection release (there have been dozens of soundtracks created for the silent classic).” Directed by Carl Dreyer, the film is heralded as one of the most influential ever made, serving as inspiration for generations of film directors such as Bergman, Fellini and Hitchcock. The heart-rending close-ups of actress Renee Falconetti’s subtle, natural expressions humanize the complex range of emotions required in her role as Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in 1431. Yet, says Wismath, “The music has a playful character to it… it’s not all serious all the time.” It includes 15th century chant and even recordings of the bells from the actual church where Joan prayed.
The challenge, of course, is technical. Wismath says there are “scenes in which a particular look happens, and the music has to synch up with that look perfectly.” His reverence for Dryer’s masterpiece is palpable. “I’ll be making sure that the music perfectly complements the film as much as possible; the music is secondary to the film,” he says, which “stands alone perfectly. It’s almost that you shouldn’t even notice the music; it should function in the background and complement what the audience sees on the stage.”
Vox Humana Chamber Choir presents The Passion of Joan of Arc, March 29, 7:30pm, Farquhar Auditorium, University of Victoria, tickets $40, $25 (25 years old and under), available in person at Farquhar Auditorium or online at tickets.uvic.ca—Mollie Kaye