BWW Review: CARMINA BURANA at Sarasota Choral Artists
Composed by Carl Orff in 1935, Carmina Burana is described as a scenic cantata incorporating narratives and pieces of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, chorus, and orchestra. Scenic cantatas often add portraiture, dance or other forms of moving media that further add a layer of dimension to the performance. Its full Latin title means "songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magical images". It is part of Trionfi, a musical triptych that includes Catulli, Carmina and Trionfo di Afrodite. The first and last movements of the piece are called Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi ("Fortune, Empress of the World") and start with the very well known "O Fortuna", which you have heard in numerous films and other dramatic media pieces.
The composition is based on the Wheel of Fortune, (Fortuna Wheel). In the iconic logo of the Wheel of Fortune, the first page of the Burana Codex includes four phrases around the outside of the wheel: "Regnabo, Regno, Regnavi, Sum sine regno", meaning "I shall reign, I reign, I have reigned, I am without a realm". Throughout the production, the Wheel of Fortune revolves changing joy to bitterness and hope to grief. "O Fortuna", the first song in the Schmeller edition, comes full circle forming a compositional frame for the production by being the opening and closing songs of the cantata.
Carmina Burana was written to be staged infusing choreography and other visual mediums, however few do the piece justice the way it was created to be performed. It is usually presented in concert halls just as a cantata. Although grand enough to stand on its own, don't tell this to Artistic Director Joseph Holt and the Choral Artists of Sarasota. They took on this masterpiece and emboldened it with performances by Sarasota Young Voices Concert Choir, Sarasota Young Voices Chamber Choir, Choral Artists Piano and Percussion Ensemble and Sarasota Contemporary Dance, under the inspirited direction of Choreographer Leymis Bolaños Wilmott. Soloists, coloratura soprano Catherine Wethington, tenor Timur, and baritone Jason Stearns added breadth and depth to this marvelous piece of work that was so reverently presented to a sold out Sarasota audience.
This is an extremely difficult piece to perform, especially in its entirety, rendering visual embellishments. As for the music itself, most pieces of this nature start pianissimo and build. Carmina Burana immediately grabs your attention by starting off with a loud boom of the bass drum followed by a full chorus that propels you into the score. The capturing of your soul begins as they move from an attention-grabbing burst to pianissimo and staccato. You are mesmerized. In this performance we were given the interpretation in English to follow along. Although it was very helpful, as the lyrics are in German and mostly Latin, let your ears hear the chorus and allow your eyes to feast on the dance movements and you will hear and feel the music rise and fall, as the Wheel of Fortune has its way with your life. "O Fortune like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing and waning: hateful life first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it: poverty and power, it melts them like ice."
To add to this already dramatic piece, the chorus was lined up against the walls of either side of the beautiful Church of the Palms sanctuary and started the cantata as they walked to the platform. The sound encompassed the sanctuary and enveloped the audience in its breathtaking opening. I was moved to tears. So powerful.
The 5 women and 1 gentleman from Sarasota Contemporary Dance flowed seamlessly in sync with the ever-changing Wheel of Fortune. Their movements swayed from light and celebrated, embracing and supporting intertwining arms and legs, to strong stances, pushing away from each other and curling into despair. They used every inch of the sanctuary, extending into the choir loft and pews and made eye contact with a smile to audience members. So touching.
This was a very special performance of one of the most beloved pieces of dramatic work done as it deserves to be seen. Accolades to all for having the spirit and the talent to conquer and present this awesome composition. I for one would like to see Carmina Burana as a yearly event.