Review: 'Carmina Burana' debut here a thriller

Did you attend the Thursday night concert? What did you think? Write me: hkheithaus@naplesnews.com

The ornate cover of the original “Carmina Burana” hints at the colorful songs inside.

The ornate cover of the original “Carmina Burana” hints at the colorful songs inside.

IF YOU GO

‘CARMINA BURANA’

What: Carl Orff settings of medieval verses performed by three choirs, soloists and the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, with Carlos Prieto conducting

When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16

Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., North Naples

Admission: $45-$70

To buy: www.thephil.org

or 239-597-1900

If you have tickets for the joint performance of “Carmina Burana” at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in North Naples today or Saturday, you are one lucky concertgoer. It promises to be a killer performance.

That prophecy comes from the fact that on Thursday night, it was already thrilling. The combined voices of the Philharmonic Chorale and the Ave Maria University Chamber Choir landed a punch of sound directly in the solar plexus of the full house, right from the jagged opening D minor harmonies of its famous “O Fortuna.”

Then it sailed on in sweeping performances of the 24 miniature songs drawn from the anonymous 13th-century masterpiece.

“Carmina Burana” is actually a book of many more essays and verses than appear in the musical settings used from it by German composer Carl Orff. Found in a decommissioned monastery, it is full of prickly observations on life, rapturous paeans to love and randy declamations on the power of drink and sex.

Stop right here if you think you don’t know this work, and listen to the London Symphony rendition of it to refresh your memory — http://bit.ly/9TXbQe. You’ve heard it somewhere. It’s been spliced into everything from a “Simpsons” episode to car ads.

“O Fortuna” is the bookend song of “Carmina Burana,” an urgent rhythm matched to a wrenching lament on fate:

Fate — monstrous and empty,

You whirling wheel, you are malevolent;

Well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,

Shadowed and veiled you plague me, too.

Now through the game I bring my bare back

To your villainy.

It requires a strong wash of vocal power to spar with the orchestral arrangement, large and powerful and loaded with percussive head turners such as tubular bells, gong and glockenspiel. Actually, it takes a strong chorus on any night to keep up with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra — especially under the animated direction of guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto.

But both well-rehearsed choruses rose to the occasion, in the lighter pieces as well as the fireworks of “O Fortuna.” They charmed, with heaps of sweet praise on spring, in “Primo Vere,” to the backdrop of a single trumpet, flutes and chimes. The men filled in a strategic vocalise chorus behind the women’s honeyed and bell-like search for rouge to attract the boys in

“Chramer, gip die varvwe mir.”

The small pieces are as rewarding as the showy ones. The chamber ensemble of the Philharmonic Youth Chorale trooped in to deliver a lilting counterpoint chorus in “Tempus est locundum” (“Now is the joyful time”). Tenor John Daniecki ambled across the stage as the swan in “Olim lacus colueram” (“In lakes I made my home”), bemoaning his fate to be roasted on a spit. His engagingly avian falsetto and his humorous swanlike head swivels added to a strong interpretation. It ended with him dashing from the auditorium to escape the “gnashing teeth” of diners.

Tracy Dahl, another “Carmina” veteran soloist, delivered a sweet and strong “Dulcissime,” which was intentionally programmed at the top range for a dramatic soprano. Hugh Russell, who has the lion’s share of solos as a baritone, is forced to stretch into a baritone falsetto — Orff meant for some of these songs to be sung out of comfort level to enhance the lyrics — and shows surprising power in that range.

Like the others, Russell takes a semi-staged approach to his vocals, which is what Orff wanted when he created the piece for its 1937 premiere. Even the choruses incorporated expression, and the effect was an exciting piece of demi-theater with a full orchestra (and two pianos!).

It’s hard to say enough about the levels of professionalism in all the choruses who made this performance possible. No one would have known Thursday that they weren’t career singers, and they are all doing this for the love of great music.

Take a deep bow, Philharmonic Chorale, Ave Maria University Chamber Choir and Philharmonic Youth Chorale Chamber Choir — along with your directors, James Cochran and Timothy McDonnell.

Prieto was the perfect conductor, and the first half entree, excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Prieto had worked with all the vocalists for the past two days and was immersed in keeping every musician and every singer into tempo and character.

He’s an involved and expressive conductor, giving the women a “giggle” sign for their breathy maidens’ song and nearly leaping into the cello section during the famous confrontation between the Montagues and the Capulets. (You’ve likely heard this piece, too: http://bit.ly/12VYDqo)

Prieto proved another visual stimulus among all the auditoryl excitement.

No one left this concert needing a coffee. It was a groundbreaker for the Naples Philharmonic — and an absolute entertainment delight for the audience.

Did you attend the Thursday night concert? What did you think? Write me: hkheithaus@naplesnews.com

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