Daniel Ebbers, director of the Pacific Opera Institute, will be a featured vocalist in "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan Arc," which will be performed at UC Berkeley this month and at Pacific later this year.

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Arts and Culture

Unique Live Performance of Silent Film Soundtrack Coming to Berkeley, Pacific

“Voices of Light” will Feature Professor Daniel Ebbers
by Patrick GiblinMar 8, 2012

When the lights are turned down low and the movie starts in Zellerbach Hall at University of California at Berkeley on March 31, audience members might think that they are hearing a unique soundtrack to a long-lost silent film. What they probably won't know is that they will be hearing a voice from University of the Pacific.

UC Berkeley is hosting a performance of "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan Arc." The show, part of the Cal Performances series, features the 1928 silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc." But the movie won't be accompanied by an organist or pianist, as would have been done when it originally was shown in theaters. The music to this screening will be provided live by the Baltimore Symphony under the direction of famed conductor Marin Alsop, and with several vocal soloists - including Pacific's own Daniel Ebbers

Ebbers, director of Pacific's Opera Institute, said it is an honor to perform with one of the great orchestras in the United States under the direction of a famous conductor, especially in a piece that is fast becoming one of the most oft performed compositions of the 20th Century. He also said that those in the Central Valley who can't make the performance should not worry. The show will be coming to Pacific in the fall. The performance at Pacific will also feature internationally acclaimed early music vocal quartet Anonymous 4.

"The Conservatory is collaborating with Gender Studies, and several other academic areas to present a number of lectures, presentations and performances celebrating the 600 year anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc," Ebbers said. "For me, this production will be the highlight of that week because the film and the music together create  one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been a part of." 

"Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan Arc," was written by composer Richard Einhorn in 1994, after he saw the original film and was moved by it. The movie had only been rediscovered in 1981, stashed away in a closet of a Norwegian mental hospital. It apparently had been ordered by a doctor in 1930 and then forgotten. Until that discovery, film historians thought that every known copy of the film had been lost to fires or degraded due to mishandling and bad storage.

Filmed in 1927 and released in 1928, "The Passion's" stark elegance and innovative use of camera angles and close-ups reverberated through the artistic community, securing its place even today as one of the greatest films ever made. The film debuted just eight years after Joan of Arc's canonization.  The rediscovered version was digitally restored to pristine condition after 20,320 splices, scratches, cue marks and other imperfections were removed.

The film tells the story of Joan of Arc. Born an illiterate farm girl, she became France's 15th century mystic-warrior "Maid of Orleans." In the midst of the Hundred Years War between England and France, Joan was told by "voices of light" that she had been given a divine mission to reunite France. Believing she was on a mission from God, the 17-year-old rallied French troops to important victories before being captured by the English and turned over to an ecclesiastical court composed of French clerics who supported the English.   Although she was a devout Catholic, Joan of Arc chose to honor her personal relationship with God over her duty to organized religion. The Catholic Church put her on trial for heresy, excommunicated her and then had her burned at the stake.

Some 100 years later, Martin Luther would pick up this thread and ignite the Protestant movement.  In 1920, nearly 500 years after her death, Joan was declared a Catholic saint, the only saint who was first excommunicated and burned.

University of the Pacific will host the performance on Oct. 20 in Faye Spanos Concert Hall. More information about the show, the week of events leading up to it, as well as how to get tickets will be posted later this year on the Conservatory of Music web site at http://www.pacific.edu/Academics/Schools-and-Colleges/Conservatory-of-Music.html.

More information about the UC Berkeley performance can be found online at http://www.calperformances.org/performances/2011-12/special-events/passion-of-joan-of-arc-baltimore-symphony-orchestra-voices-of-light.php.