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MUSIC REVIEW : A Once-Silent Joan of Arc Now Hears 'Voices'

August 19, 1995|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Collaboration with the dead may be the last heresy of 20th-Century art--inevitably risking wholesale distortion even when undertaken with respect, as in Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light," a cantata composed a year ago to accompany Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent film "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc."

With a huge projection screen suspended between the towers of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre--and the members of the Los Angeles Theater Orchestra and I Cantori (plus four vocal soloists) dimly lit on the stage beneath--the Dreyer/Einhorn event received a press preview Thursday before three weekend performances.

Impressively conducted by Lucinda Carver, the music provided a generalized, sentimental wash over Dreyer's rigorously concentrated study of the last day before Joan of Arc's execution. Indeed, Einhorn ultimately seemed less inspired by the spirit of Carl Dreyer than by Carl Orff--particularly in his lush sonorities, textual eclecticism and relationships between soloists and chorus.

In introductory remarks, Einhorn said his intention was "to add layers of meaning to Dreyer's film," and his libretto adroitly juxtaposed fragments of antique writings--including letters by Joan herself--in an approach parallel to Dreyer's use of documentary sources.

Medieval feminism loomed especially large and with it the sense of Joan the Warrior-Maid as a threat to the all-male church and state power structures.

However, Einhorn's texts remained in the original languages--translated only in the program booklet--and thus added nothing during the course of the film, while Dreyer's subtitles brought passages from the original trial transcripts directly to the attention of the audience.

In another preference for documentary sources, Dreyer reportedly wanted Gregorian chant to accompany his film: music that would have strongly reinforced the dominance of the church--and of men--in a way that Einhorn's sweetened, hyper-accessible score could not. Nor did the composer offer a reflection of the monstrous character grotesquerie that gives the film its malignant humor. Missing, too: music complementing the fierce visual rhythms of the film.

But the performance did bring a classic motion picture to the amphitheater for the first time, and it did showcase I Cantori and the Theater Orchestra very, very effectively.

In dramatic solos as well as ensemble passages, singers Trudy Ellen Craney, Michelle Fournier, Ray Hornblower and Norman Goss lent "Voices of Light" additional skill and conviction.

* "La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc"/"Voices of Light" continues tonight and Sunday at 8:30 in the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2850 Cahuenga Blvd. East. Tickets: $25. (213) 466-1767.

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