"Orleanskaya deva" (The Maid of Orleans) (1878-79, rev. 1882), an opera in 4 acts, was Tchaikovsky's first opera to be performed abroad. The text was by the composer after Schiller's tragedy, Jules Barbier's "Jeanned'Arc and Auguste Mermet's libretto for his own opera (1876), with details from Henri Wallon's biography of Joan of Arc.
In Act I, Joan refuses to marry for protection, and says that is heaven's wish. A peasant, Bertrand, enters the village festival scene and warns that the English may soon attack, but Joan prophesizes to the crowd that the English commander Salisbury has already been slain. A French soldier enters and verifies Joan's vision and she is hailed as a seer. There is a hymn of thanksgiving. Joan, to the sounds of a heavenly chorus, sets out to save France.
In Act II, the anxious French king Charles VII hears of the maiden who has defeated the English. She repeats to the king his secret prayers, tells her story, and he puts her at the head of the army.
Act III begins with a battle scene near Reims between Joan and Lionel, a Burgundian knight. Just before she slays him she sees his face and falls in love. Lionel changes his allegiance to the French. In the second scene, Charles coronation is taking place. Joan is at his side. Thibaut d'Arc, Joan's father, accuses her of sorcery. There are several thunderclaps as Joan refuses to answer. Joan accuses Lionel as being her enemy because he has diverted her from her mission.
In Act IV, Joan again yields to Lionel's embrace in a forest setting. The heavenly chorus is heard by Joan. She is accused of failing in her task, and is told of her martydom and eventual redemption. English troops slay Lionel and take Joan prisoner.
In the last scene, Joan is lead to the stake to a gallows march. The initial mocking words of the chorus-onlookers change to pity. A soldier breaks a stick and makes a small cross for Joan. The fire is ignited; the angelic chorus is heard inviting Joan to heaven.
In general, the music of "The Maid of Orleans" is competent but not the most inspired Tchaikovsky. The second act contains the best music with some touching passages describing Joan's emotions, and the fine dance music of the French king's entertainments as he tries to calm his anxieties.