The chorus sings of the great darkness that had enveloped France, and how God sent Joan to unite the people.
I The Voices from Heaven
A heavenly chorus summons Joan.
II The Book
A Dominican friar calls for Joan, who appears in chains. In a spoken dialogue, he expresses sympathy toward her fate, and revulsion toward those who condemned her. He offers to read to her from a book which details her trial.
III The Voices of the Earth
The charges against Joan are voiced by Frère Dominique and the chorus. Joan cannot understand why the priests she revered and the people she loved turned against her. Frère Dominique likens her accusers to beasts.
IV Joan Given Up to the Beasts
In a surreal scene, Joan’s accusers are portrayed as various animals. The main judge is a pig (Porcus in Latin, for cochon in French standing for Cauchon, the name of the judge at the actual trial). The jury members are sheep and the recording secretary is an ass. Joan’s testimony is twisted around by the court, and she is sentenced to die at the stake.
V Joan at the Stake
Joan hears the names she is being called – heretic, sorceress, apostate, barbarian – while at the stake awaiting execution. She asks Frère Dominique how things came to this. He explains that it was due to a card game invented by a mad king.
VI The Kings, or the Invention of the Game of Cards
The Heralds explain the Hundred Years’ War as a game of cards bearing the likenesses of various nobles on either side of the conflict as well as the Deadly Sins and Death itself. The kings neither lose nor win, but only change places. In the end, Joan is delivered up as a pawn.
VII Catherine and Margaret
The tolling of her death knell reminds Joan of the church bells of her youth and the voices she heard from St. Catherine and St. Margaret, voices that urged her to take up a sword and escort the King of France to Rheims for his coronation.
VIII The King Sets Out for Rheims
The people are assembled for a mid-winter festival. Heurtebise and his wife, Madame Tonneaux, personifications of bread and wine, sing of their reunion after a long separation. A cleric interrupts the celebration to lead the people in a Latin hymn which parallels the wait of the Isrealites for the Messiah to appear with the expected arrival of the King of France. Suddenly, the King is sighted. Joan claims with pride that she brought this about, leading the reluctant King to Rheims. Frère Dominique counters that it was God who brought this about, and pointedly asks Joan whether it was for an earthly king that she gave her life.
IX The Sword of Joan
Once more, Joan recalls her younger days, and the voices she heard from the saints. Frère Dominique asks her to explain her sword. Joan recounts the songs children would sing to welcome the month of May. She talks about how in the wintertime, it would look as though all nature was dead and hope had gone; but in the spring, hope would rise anew. She says that the sword St. Michael gave to her is not named Hatred, but rather Love. Her voices told her to take the sword and go to Rouen, where she would ultimately die, on horseback in May.
Joan reprises the childrens’ song about the month of May, adding that she will become a candle to light at the feet of the Virgin.
XI The Burning of Joan of Arc
The people cry for Joan’s death. Frère Dominique has gone, and she is now alone. A priest demands that she sign a confession, but she refuses to lie to save herself. The voice of the Virgin tells her to trust in the fire for her deliverance. As the flames mount, the saints join with the Virgin to welcome her, and the chorus’ attitude changes to one of praise. Joan breaks the chains she has been wearing throughout, and proclaims as she dies that joy is the strongest, love is the strongest, God is the strongest. The chorus ends by singing, “No one has a greater love than one who gives his life for those he loves.”