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"Jeanne Dark", opera by Fabio Vacchi premiered on 14 May 2024

On Tuesday 14 May 2024 at 8pm, in the Zubin Mehta Hall, the curtain rises on the first performance of "Jeanne Dark", the latest opera composed by Fabio Vacchi commissioned by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. 

On the podium, leading the ContempoArtEnsemble, maestro Alessandro Cadario; the direction is handled by Valentino Villa.

The opera's libretto is signed by Stefano Jacini.

Two more performances are on the bill: May 16th at 8pm and May 18th at 6pm.

Friday, May 10th 2024, at 5.30 pm, in the Ridotto of the Foyer of the Galleria del Teatro del Maggio, meeting for the public with Fabio Vacchi, Stefano Jacini, Alessandro Cadario and Valentino Villa. Free entry until all available places are taken. 

The performance on May 14th will be broadcast live on Rai Radio 3

Florence, May 10th  2024 – The opera programming of the 86th Festival del Maggio Musicale Fiorentinocontinues with an absolute novelty: scheduled for Tuesday 14 May 2024 at 8pm, in Sala Mehta, the first performance of the opera Jeanne Dark, by Fabio Vacchi, inspired by the legendary figure of Joan of Arc.

The debut of the opera, which represents Vacchi's fourth commission for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, was originally scheduled for 2020 only to be postponed due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.

On the podium, leading the ContempoArtEnsemble, maestro Alessandro Cadario; the direction is instead entrusted to Valentino Villa.

On the stage of the Mehta Hall the vocal cast is made up of Alexia Voulgaridou in the role of Jeanne, Elia Schilton in the part of Voltaire; Olha Smokolina as Agnese, Lorenzo Martelli plays the Stalliere. Michele Galbiati plays the role of a Donkey; Alfonso Zambuto plays the triple role of the Dolphin, the King and the Devil; Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani is Saint George while Gianluca Margheri is Saint Dionigi.

The part of Frate Bordone is supported by Davide PivaLuca Tamani plays the double role of a French Soldier and the First English Soldier as well as Dielli Hoxha who plays a French Soldier and the Second English Soldier. Closing the cast as solo voices are Dalai ChenHyunmo ChoManuel Epis and two artists of the Coro del Maggio, Diego Barretta and Davide Ciarrocchi.

In this new production the scenes are by Serena Rocco; the costumes by Gianluca Sbicca; the choreographic movements are curated by Marco Angelilli while the design of the lights and their creation are by Pasquale Mari and Oscar Frosio respectively.

Two more performances are scheduled: Thursday May 16th at 8pm and Saturday May 18th at 6pm.

(Before each performance, the presentations of the shows are also offered to the public, held by Katiuscia Manetta, Maddalena Bonechi and Marco Cosci: the guides are held in the Foyer of the Zubin Mehta Hall or in the Galleria Foyer of the Great Hall approximately 45 minutes before the beginning of each performance).

The opera, as mentioned, marks the fourth collaboration between the Teatro del Maggio and the composer Fabio Vacchi, consolidating a bond lasting more than forty years: the first opera set to music by Vacchi, again commissioned by the Theatre, was in fact Girotondo, staged as part of the 45th Festival del Maggio in June 1982. Subsequently it was the turn of Il letto della Storia, staged in February 2003, followed by the last opera written by Fabio Vacchi for the Maggio, Lo specchio magico, which debuted in 2016, during the 79th edition of the Maggio Festival.

Jeanne Dark, whose libretto bears the signature of Stefano Jacini, is inspired by Joan of Arc. As underlined by Fabio Vacchi, the opera – which is based on Voltaire's heroic-comic poem La Pucelle d'Orléans – has a decidedly comic character, in stark contrast to his last two operatic works: “I arrive from two performances, namely Madina and Bandiere Nere - in Milan and Rome respectively - where I dealt with very raw and current issues, such as war and terrorism; on the contrary, Jeanne Dark is a comic work and I chose Voltaire's poem as a source because for me the latter represents the birth of modernity: a historical moment in which problems were brought to light that are often relevant even today Today. The heroic poem seen in a comic key was a way to satirize the present through the tales of antiquity and I think that Voltaire's vision is absolutely current. The comic satire was often full of ferocious satire and in some cases even quite scurrilous in some cases: with Stefano Jacini we also decided to make some cuts compared to the original text, 'censoring' so to speak some scenes that could be excessively disturbing and for also facilitate the narrative development of the story which otherwise risked becoming too long and heavy. Within the work there are two characters - San Dionigi and San Giorgio - who in the satire represent today's stadium fights and current political debates, essentially full of banalities, exploitation and brawls. Compared to Voltaire's poem, we have instead added a character, Gilles de Rais who - really - fought against the French alongside Joan of Arc and who therefore we can say makes ours a partial invention. Gilles de Rais is also cited by Voltaire himself in one of his writings as one of those figures sent to death due to inconceivable superstitions and obscurantisme. Compared to the original ending conceived by Voltaire, we thought of a happy ending, with Jeanne's escape riding the character of the Donkey. In all this we also added the character of Voltaire himself, who is none other than the narrator and the one who holds the threads of the story in his hands."

On the podium the maestro Alessandro Cadario, who returns to the Maggio almost ten years after the last time, when he conducted Hans Werner Henze's Pollicino in February 2015: "I am very happy to return to the podium of the Maggio - where I made my debut as a conductor - and to do it on the occasion of the Festival: normally with regards to 'new' works the public has some preconceptions, which concern perhaps the duration or even the heaviness of the topics covered: this is not the case at all; Jeanne Dark is a funny and short opera, with a wonderful and irreverent libretto by Stefano Jacini and equally varied and astonishing music by Fabio Vacchi which make this opera interesting, innovative and truly enjoyable to listen to.

There will be the narrator, Voltaire, and in moments almost stadium-like choruses that contrast between the various factions of the English and the French, which make it a truly fresh, interesting and above all innovative work."

The direction of this world premiere is Valentino Villa, who returns directing a show at the Maggio after the success of the Intermedi della Pellegrina staged at the Boboli Gardens in the summer of 2019: "Tackling an absolutely new title that has never been staged, although it may seem like a simple thing to say, it is a real opportunity in which, by 'building' the show, you can take risks, waiting for the moment when everything will be in its definitive form. I believe I approached this opera by framing it not exclusively from a comic perspective: I tried - not being a musician - to be constantly stimulated both by Stefano Jacini's libretto and by maestro Vacchi's music, feeling and perceiving this work as truly similar to the concept of heroic-comic poem. It would not be entirely in keeping with the musical and literary material that we have to tell, therefore, to frame this production as solely comical, so my choice was to create a space that could hold together a multiplicity of visual stimuli and that allowed constant sliding between the serious, the funny, the satire and the farcical. Thanks also to the role of the costumes and how they were designed - in some cases they are grotesque, in others almost serious - visually a scenic image is composed that is more similar to a pastiche than a self-defined painting.

The role of Voltaire, the internal narrator of the story, is played by Elia Schilton, one of the most famous Italian theatrical performers of the last decades, in his debut on the stage of Maggio; Alexia Voulgaridou, returning to Florence after the performances of the Fernand Cortez, ou la conquête du Mexico is the protagonist of the story, Jeanne. A large number of talents and former talents from the Accademia del Maggio are among the protagonists on stageOlha Smokolina plays Agnese; Lorenzo Martelli, short after the success of Turandot, plays the role of the Stalliere; Michele Galbiati plays the character of the Donkey; Davide Piva is Frate Bordone.

Alfonso Zambuto, recently on stage in La principessa di gelo last March, plays the triple role of the Dolphin, the King and the Devil; Giovan Battista Parodi, who returns to Maggio after Lucia di Lammermoor in January 2009, is San Giorgio while Gianluca Margheri, returning after the success of Il Ritorno di Ulisse in patria in July 2021.

Luca Tamani plays a French Soldier and the First English Soldier; Dielli Hoxha is a French Soldier and the Second British Soldier. Last but not least Dalai ChenHyunmo ChoManuel Epis and two artists of the Coro del Maggio, Diego Barretta and Davide Ciarrocchi.

The opera and the subject:

Jeanne works as a waitress in a tavern and is threatened by Frate Bordone and the Groom, until Saint Dionysius shows up announcing that she is destined to save France from the invading English and their Burgundian allies. For this task you will not be able to have a winged white horse at your disposal, but you will have to make do with a donkey, even if it has wings. The saint presents himself to the Dauphin of France and obtains the investiture of the Maid, whose virginity he guarantees, an absolute rarity at the time. Saint Denis and Saint George watch the siege of Orleans in the clouds, each cheering for their team. Jeanne and Gilles de Rais fight side by side, until late in the evening. In the dark Jeanne and Gilles reach the castle of the Hermaphrodite, who is female only at night and at dawn he attacks Jeanne's virtue and receives a hail of punches in return. For this intemperance Jeanne and Gilles risk the gallows, but manage to escape on the winged donkey. Agnes and the Groom could flirt in an inn if she didn't ask him to run an errand for her. Brother Bordone takes advantage of this and takes Agnese to bed, but is then beaten to death by the groom with the help of Voltaire himself. Brother Bordone ends up in hell. Boiled in a pot and struck with a pitchfork by the Devil, he has the opportunity to recognize many politicians and high prelates among the damned. After the coronation of the Dauphin of France in Reims, he begins a dance party during which the king confesses to Gilles that he is broke. Jeanne is captured by the Burgundians and put up for auction, in which only the English participate, the King of France abandons her to her fate. At the trial, Voltaire takes on the role of Judge Cauchon and questions Jeanne about her, trying to frame her. He resumes his identity, he explains how Jeanne was actually condemned because she insisted on dressing as a man. In her prison Jeanne is joined by her winged donkey who confesses that he has always been in love with her and proposes to escape with him to the world of the moon. Gilles de Rais joins them.