Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Giovanna d'Arco

Verdi/Solera
Buxton Festival
Buxton Opera House
11 July 2015 to 26 July 2015

True to the now well-established tradition of unearthing rarely performed operas, the 2015 Buxton Festival has let upon Verdi, no less. His penchant for strong women brave enough to fight for their country even unto death brought him to Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc). In real life she was famously burnt at the stake, aged 19, in 1431.

There have been many versions of the story since and in Verdi’s version , written in 1845, she dies in battle as she leads the French against the English tyrants, not in flames, and is brought home to join the angels. She was not in league with the devil, as her father feared.

Buxton has also attracted the distinguished veteran Verdi director Elijah Moshinsky – quite a coup. And the result is a compact, engaging and enjoyable production of what after all is a second-rate work lacking the passion one might expect from a warrior maiden, even if it doesn’t stay true to the real story.

The music certainly has its moments of spirit and colour, all firmly handled by conductor Stuart Stratford and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

In this version Giovanna is beset by battles: with her father, with her love for King Carlo (and his for her), with the French against the English tyrants and with the nun-like angels against the carnivalesque red devils of Satan.

In the title role, the Australian soprano Kate Ladner, returning to Buxton after her critically-acclaimed roles here in 2010 and 2014, does well with a somewhat restrained role and shows her singing strengths.  .Tenor Ben Johnson is in good form and voice as the troubled but loving Carlo And David Cecconi impresses in the baritone role of Giacomo, Giovana’st doubting but loving father. However, the real star of the show is Buxton’s excellent hand-picked chorus, who are given plenty to do.

The staging in an open topped mirrored walled set , which provides an effective “Wall of Death” vantage point for nuns, devils and onlookers, designed by Russell Craig, lends atmosphere, heightened by Malcolm Rippeth’s inspired lighting effects.

Whether it was worth reviving is another matter, but it is a collector’s item for those aficionados building up their Verdi portfolio.

Reviewer: Philip Radcliffe