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Joan of Arc at the Stake

Joan of Arc At The Stake
Opera Sacra ends its 40 year run with a powerful masterpiece

Opera Sacra will stage its final production ever this Friday and Saturday at 8pm, at St. Joseph’s University Church, 3269 Main Street, with performances of Joan of Arc at the Stake (Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher) an oratorio composed in 1935 by Arthur Honegger, to a libretto by the controversial French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel. Honegger, a Paris-based Swiss composer was one of Les Six, an influential group of French composers mainly active between the two world wars. Father Jack Ledwon the founding and sole artistic director of Opera Sacra explains: “For four decades Opera Sacra has been committed to the presentation of unique repertoire, spanning over one thousand years of music, but all good things must come to an end.”

While several versions of the story of ‘La Pucelle,’ or the Maid of Orleans are widely known in Western European culture, Honegger’s powerful setting tells the harrowing story of Joan of Arc’s life in a series of flashbacks when she is tied at the stake, and preparing to die. In traditional operas and oratorios the main characters have the largest singing roles, but in Honegger’s unique work, the two principal characters of Joan of Arc and Brother Dominic will only speak.

The amazingly versatile soprano Colleen Marcello, who has sung several major roles for the company, including the role in Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and the pivotal role of Blanche de le Force in last year’s incendiary production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites will perform the role of Joan. Mike Randall, familiar to Western New York audiences from his appearances on WKBW television and his one-man performances as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, will be Brother Dominic. The cast includes tenor Robert Zimmerman as Porcus, Joan’s judge, soprano Amy Grable as the Virgin Mary, Rebecca Witty as Saint Margaret and Laurie Tramuta as Saint Catherine. Doreen Rao, the former director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus will conduct.

Unusually, the chorus, which functions like the chorus in Greek tragedy, commenting on Joan’s life, cursing her and then praising her after her martyrdom, has the largest singing role. Three choruses, with a total of over one hundred voices will be performing in this production: the Buffalo Master Chorale, the Unitarian Universalist Church Choir and the Buffalo Niagara Youth Chorus. Besides the usual orchestral forces, Honegger calls for a celeste, two pianos, three saxophones and the very rare ondes martenot. This electronic keyboard instrument, invented in 1928, creates sounds that cannot be duplicated even with the most sophisticated contemporary synthesizers, so Genevieve Grenier, a native of Quebec, will perform on one of the approximately ninety instruments still known to exist.

Suggested donations: $20, students $15. Patron $50, and benefactor $100, includes preferred seating and an artist reception. Information: 833-0298, or visit:

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