Joan of Arc: An Opera in Three Acts

Joan of ArcJobe wrote the libretto of Joan of Arc beginning in late 1990, using verse forms based on medieval French poetic structures (rondeau, ballade, etc). He began the music a year later and spent the following eighteen months working on the score, completing it in the spring of 1993.

The musical setting of Joan of Arc contains sonorities characteristic of Medieval and Renaissance music, but with a modern twist. The orchestra features early music instruments such as cornetto and hurdy gurdy and portative organ as well as modern strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion. Additionally, there were two instruments designed especially for Joan of Arc. One was the Drone Machine. The instrument is seven feet long and constructed out of an oil drum cut in half length-wise with a plywood top. A crank on one end turns a wooden wheel that vibrates four bass-range strings, creating a powerful droning sound, utilized specifically for the tragic Burning at the Stake at the end of the narrative. The other special instrument was the set of Glass Bells. Based loosely on composer Harry Partch's Cloud Chamber Bowls, their sound serves as a tone-color symbol of Joan's visions.

Notes from the Composer:

My approach to telling the story of Joan of Arc was much influenced by a wonderful book by Marina Warner entitled, Joan of Arc: Images of Female Heroism. Warner argues that Joan is ultimately unknowable or at least that she cannot be understood through the usual stereotypical models: virgin, amazon, martyr, saint. With this in mind, I have tried to present her visions, the aspect of Joan that is at once deeply characteristic yet finally enigmatic. While I do not claim to understand the nature of her visions, it’s clear that for a while, they were such that Joan enjoyed unprecedented success in her quest to liberate France near the end of the 100 Years War. But as we know too well in the present day, “things fall apart,” and in most ways they did, tragically, for Joan. And therein lies an intriguing human question that transcends issues of paradigm and gender: what is the experience of the person endowed with visions when chaos intervenes? Must she close her ears to the voices or continue to listen? Retreat or accept the consequences? Again, I make no claim to fully understand this, but I have tried to present the event so as to emphasize this question. It does appear that Joan of Arc indeed continued to listen to her voices, to follow her visions in such a way that it still inspires us to tell her story.

The opera Joan of Arc is dedicated to my grandmother, Mary Emily Lee Jobe 1906–1981.

—Steven Lee Jobe

Audio and video highlights from Joan of Arc are available at the Joan of Arc website

Glass bells during performance of Jeanne d'Arc