Out on the bald Panhandle prairie on March 30 and 31, one of the iconic orchestral/choral works in all musical literature thrilled sold-out auditoriums.
I refer to the staging of Carmina Burana, an epic collaborative production between orchestra, chorus and dance department, which in my 45 year experience with this work, stands as unique.
Drawn from medieval student poems and musings, some from a millennium past, and part of a corpus of so-called Goliardic Literature maintained at the Monastery of Beuern in Bavaria this work was lyricised and orchestrated by Carl Orff in the 1930’s.
These writings hail from the gestational period of European Universities, when conflict between town and gown was persistent but which reveal that though the nature of higher education has evolved, the psyche of male collegians has remained static, and not at a higher cognitive level.
In short, these poems, some would say fantasies, elaborate the arc of male student concerns, from fortune’s revelation, whether good or ill, to keggers in the tavern, to legions of lovely lasses eager for male company. Many moralists have assigned this masterpiece at least an R rating for content, which did not appear to affect the participants in the slightest.
It was clear that the orchestra, conducted by Dr. Mark Bartley, enjoyed themselves, and played with a dynamic precision equal to the great philharmonics of the planet. The Berlin Philharmonic, performing this piece with Maestro Seiji Ozawa comes to mind.
The chorus, directed by Dr. Sean Pullen has demonstrated a facility during Dr. Pullen’s tenure for multilingual performance. In this instance the WTAMU choirs showed why they are the voice of one of the premier music programs in Division II. The choristers’ Medieval Latin and German were enunciated spot-on as they sustained the rapid pulse and energy of the music.
And this production featured dance, choreographed by Mark Gold and Leslie Williams and using members of the WTAMU Dance Program. The concept was bold, with some of the dancing, like the songs, abstract, but some which proceeded from real life. In Taberna quando sumis featured six female dancers giving comedic and convincing renditions of terpsichorean inebriation.
Some aspects of the staging were innovative and effective. The backlit dividers cast a dramatic effect, as did the opening O Fortuna through dry-ice fog. The soloists came onto the stage for their numbers, then exited, which made the work much more of a narrative than sit-and-play-and-stand-and-sing. Finally, lines of females and males came to stage front to antiphonally dialogue veni, veni, venias with nuanced flirtations. Very effective!
The translation, projected on an attached ceiling screen, as in opera, was adequate, but leaving no doubt as to what was transpiring. Sometimes it’s so scrubbed and sanitized as to mislead, but other times, blatantly literal to the point of being vulgar. This struck a happy medium.
The soloists were also exceptional. Matt Oglesby dished up a superb falsetto rendering of a roasting swan in Olim lacus colueram, while faculty colleague Sarah Beckham-Turner hit Dulcissime with ease and conviction, a high bar often missed by sopranos in performance.
Kudos to the Amarillo Boys Choir, directed by the Brooks, Mel and BJ, who held forth admirably in the young adult context of this work. Both their voices and Latin maintained the right pitch.
Congratulations to the whole WT team for mounting a successful production of this oft-performed work, but with new wrinkles that makes traditional presentations staid by comparison. That such bellwether staging has taken place in the Panhandle should not surprise, because Amarillo, along with WTAMU, is artsy!
So, let’s keep it that way, and “Keep Austin Weird and Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”