Centuries-old cantata performed with exuberance and control
By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | email@example.com
April 20, 2012
The exuberance was unbridled. The control was exemplary. The cheers and bravo-filled standing ovation was lengthy.
Wednesday evening’s performance of Carl Orff’s dramatic cantata “Carmina Burana” proved quite a show. It all but filled the Musical Arts Center. And those who came sat silent until the last notes of the renowned “O Fortuna,” in repeat, ceased. They then erupted. And why not? They had heard a brilliantly conceived presentation of probably the most popular large-scaled choral piece written in the 20th century. There was cause for jubilation.
An hour earlier, “Carmina Burana” had started with that same chorus, “O Fortuna,” an outcry against “Fate monstrous and empty, a whirling wheel you are,” fickle, ever unpredictable, cruel.
The minutes between flew by as chorus, orchestra, and soloists wended and wove, swerved and spurted through an array of numbers, the words for which date from the 13th century. The lyrics were found in 1803 at a Benedictine monastery in the Bavarian Alps, their authors having been traveling students and defrocked monks of medieval times.
Most of the music had not survived. Orff took 25 of the hundreds of poems found, divided them into three categories (spring, tavern life, love) and set them to new music, ever inventive and imaginative, reduced primarily to melody, rhythm and repetitive patterns, the likes of which would later be used by minimalist composers like Phillip Glass and John Adams.
There were pieces to shake the roof and those that gently stroked the air. There were lilting expressions suggestive of springtime, gruff songs reflecting life in the tavern, and praises for love, courtly and not so.
On stage were close to 90 instrumentalists, members of the University Orchestra, including six percussionists and two pianists to add tumult and excitement. Behind them were about 180 student choristers, those from the Oratorio Chorus, All-Campus Choir and International Vocal Ensemble.
For the final section, some 50 members of the IU Children’s Choir entered to add their lovely tones to the mix. Up front, there sat and waited and eventually sang three soloists: soprano Rainelle Krause, tenor Jacob Williams and baritone John Orduna.
On the podium stood the putter-together of all these folks playing and singing all that Orff, Robert Porco. He — adjunct professor in the Jacobs School, former chairman of its choral department, now choral director of the Cleveland Orchestra and music director of the May Festival in Cincinnati — had certainly done his job. Just keeping all those musicians together, doing what they needed to do in unison was task enough, and a task he fully mastered. But Porco had infused his forces with the moods that the score is meant to generate: the earthly passions, angers, insinuations, trepidations, boastings and joys. All burst into fullest life.
Soloist Williams had the evening’s shortest task, limited primarily to a beastly aria that sits way high above a tenor’s area of comfort as the words to be sung describe a swan roasting on a spit. Williams did not seem totally comfortable negotiating the precipitous jumps upward, but he got them done and made sure the sardonic spirit of the song was present.
Soprano Krause, on the other hand, seemed to have no problems soaring gorgeously in songs given to amours; the voice was pure, the intonation absolute. She was a pleasure to hear.
Orduna was the busiest of the soloists, lending his beautiful and flexible baritone to tavern songs and those of romance. The voice flattered one’s ears both when in rotund and robust usage and when it shifted into caressing falsetto. He appeared also to enter the world of his songs with insight and enthusiasm.
Credit should go to Katherine Strand, Brian Schkeeper and Juan Hernandez for training, respectively, the members of the International Vocal Ensemble, IU Children’s Choir and All-Campus Choir that served in the massive Oratorio Chorus.
Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2012