July 15, 2009 performance reviewed by Dave Conlin Read.
Everybody was a big winner when The Wheel of Fortune was presented in the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood, with Rafael Frubeck Du Burgos standing in for Pat Sajak, even if Vanna White was nowhere to be seen.
Of course we’re referring to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, John Oliver conducting, PALS Children’s Chorus, Alyson Kegel, director, plus soprano Laura Claycomb, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, and baritone Markus Werba.
Carmina Burana, Latin for “Songs from Beuern,” is a collection of 254 poems and dramatic texts written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by Goliards, clerics and students, in expression of their satirical view of the Church. The collection was found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria.
Orff, who had a parallel career teaching music to children, intended Carmina Burana to reveal the elemental power of music so that the audience could experience music as an overwhelming, primitive force. It’s global popularity, despite Orff’s failure in opposing Nazism, proves that he acheived his goal.
He selected 24 poems about the wheel of fortune from the manuscript and arranged them into “bawdy songs for soloists and chorus, accompanied by instruments and magic images.” In this performance, the magical images were left to the imagination, which didn’t need to work hard to conjure a delightful tableau.
The lyrics were streamed in English on a large LED screen above the chorus, drawing a variety of audible reactions from the audience. The Roast Swan movement from the In the Tavern scene was like a Vaudeville bit. It is silly enough on the page:
“Now I lie on a plate
and cannot fly anymore;
I see bared teeth.
and roasting fiercely.”
but drew nervous chuckles because it was sung by the African-American tenor Lawrence Brownlee.
Whereas the text was the genesis of the work, it certainly is of minor importance in the experience of it. Being able to read something of a simultaneous English translation of an ancient medieval text can add a layer of nuance, but can just as easily prove a distraction from a more purely visceral reception of the performance.
Perhaps it would be better to scan the text ahead of time, or even to read it after, ideally while mulling the performance with friends.
The program began with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D (Classical), played by a small configuration of the BSO. It seems like it could stand for the symphonic template, at least to this un-schooled auditor, feeling like a coherent series of melody and rhythm that arouses the attention right away and keeps it through to the conclusion.
Recent Tanglewood reviews/videos:
- Tanglewood schedule – August 14-23
- Sir James Galway at Tanglewood – 70th birthday celebration
- Brahms’ A German Requiem at Tanglewood July 28th, 2009
- video: Stroll around Tanglewood before Diana Krall’s July 4 concert
- Tanglewood 2009 season opens with Tchaikovsky July 4th, 2009
- A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood June 29th, 2009
- video: Arlo Guthrie plays City of New Orleans and duets w/ Garrison Keillor on Deep Blue Sea
- video: Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers play The Orange Blossom Special