Opera Sacra, the longest continually producing opera company in Western New York, began in 1975, founded by Father Jacob Ledwon at the former St. Joseph New Cathedral in Buffalo. Choosing works that center on religious themes, it has been presenting major productions for 40 seasons in many Western New York churches and schools, at Kleinhans Music Hall and Artpark. Its repertoire, spanning over 1,000 years of music, has included the classics of Grand Opera, medieval liturgical dramas, children's fables and contemporary masterworks.
This fall, Opera Sacra is planning another exceptional program - Arthur Honegger's "Joan of Arc at the Stake."
Written in 1935 by the Paris-based Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, the opera tells the story of Joan of Arc's life in a series of flashbacks as she prepares to die at the stake. French poet Paul Claudel, noted for many religious poems, wrote the libretto.
Unlike traditional operas where the main characters have the largest singing roles, the two principal characters of Joan of Arc, played by Colleen Marcello, and Brother Dominic, played by Mike Randall, will only speak. The largest singing role is taken up by the chorus, which functions like the chorus in Greek tragedy, commenting on Joan's life, cursing her and then praising her after her martyrdom.
Three choruses will be performing in this production, The Buffalo Master Chorale, the Unitarian Universalist Church Choir and the Buffalo Niagara Youth Chorus, with a total of 100 voices. An orchestra of 45 musicians, as well as actors and dancers, will also be performing.
One of the most unique features of this work is the orchestration that Honegger created for the score. Besides the usual orchestral instruments, Honegger calls for three saxophones, two pianos, a celeste and one of the rarest instruments ever used, an ondes martenot. This electronic keyboard instrument, first built in 1928, creates sounds that cannot be duplicated even with the most sophisticated contemporary synthesizers. There are only an estimated 90 of these instruments in the world and finding someone to play them at the level this work requires is an extremely difficult feat.
Opera Sacra has been fortunate to find such an artist in Genevieve Grenier, a native of Quebec, whose performance will enhance the production with a level of authenticity that cannot be duplicated. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for most audience members to experience this unique sound with the presence of this world-class artist in the orchestra.
The cast will also include tenor Robert Zimmerman as Porcus, Joan's judge. His name is a play on words, since the actual Bishop of Beauvais who presided at Joan's trial was Bishop Cauchon, the French word for pig. Soprano Amy Grable will sing the role of the Virgin Mary, and Rebecca Witty and Laurie Tramuta will complete the heavenly voice trio as St. Margaret and St. Catherine. The performances will be led by the internationally renowned conductor Doreen Rao.
Two performances will be staged at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 20-21 at St. Joseph University Church, 3269 Main St., Buffalo. Suggested donations at the door will be $20 and $15 for students and seniors. Patron tickets at $50 and benefactor tickets at $100 will include preferred seating and an artist reception.
For further information call 816-833-0298.