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Julia Holter to score The Passion of Joan of Arc

Opera North Projects has commissioned the Los Angeles singer-songwriter, composer and producer Julia Holter to create an ambitious new soundtrack for the revelatory 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Joined by the Leeds-based company’s 36-strong Chorus and her own three-piece band, she will premiere her new score at Leeds Town Hall on 24 June 2020, with a further performance at the Barbican, London on 27 June.

These performances have been postponed due to COVID-19.

Over the course of five studio albums Julia Holter has pushed her experiments with vocals, songwriting and musical structures into astonishing and beautiful new territories. In scoring Carl Theodor Dreyer’s visionary telling of the martyrdom of the French saint, she finds an immense sonic tapestry at her fingertips, and an opportunity to dig deeper into her longstanding fascination with the art, history and music of the medieval era.

The outer reaches of cinema have also exerted a strong pull on her, and she has acknowledged the influence of the films of Alain Resnais, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier and even the Technicolor MGM confections of Vincente Minelli on her atmospheric, enigmatic writing.

The new score for Joan of Arc grows out of a 2017 live soundtrack that Holter performed with the film in LA, increased exponentially in scale, palette and possibilities. It promises to bring together the breathtaking, emotionally-charged soundworld of one of today’s most remarkable musical artists with the intense, expressionistic universe of a landmark of early cinema.

Driven to the brink of collapse by Dreyer’s uncompromising direction, Renée Jeanne Falconetti gives a transcendent performance in the lead role, sometimes framed by the strange angles of the specially constructed set, but more often with her gaunt face shown in lingering close-up. The critic Pauline Kael wrote that Falconetti’s portrayal “may be the finest performance ever recorded on film”. It has influenced everyone from Jean-Luc Godard to Miami Vice and Heat director Michael Mann, who called it “Human experience conveyed purely from the visualisation of the human face: no one else has composed and realised human beings quite like Dreyer in The Passion of Joan of Arc.”

“I’m honoured to be working with the Chorus of Opera North to perform my score to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc”, comments Julia. “I’ll be adapting a couple of relevant medieval chants for the ensemble, to take the melodies to a wild place that reflects the rapture and trauma of Falconetti’s Joan, with the help of bells, organ, and other instruments.”

Commissioned and produced by Opera North Projects. Co-produced by the Barbican and the Brudenell Social Club.


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