Irreverent ‘Carmina Burana’ ‘goes straight for the heart’

11/11/2012 12:07 AM

08/08/2014 10:33 AM

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is getting bawdy.

Along with four choirs and three virtuosos, the symphony will present Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” a classic secular choral work.

“It’s a very exciting, irreverent piece,” soprano Monica Yunus said. “It’s not the traditional text.”

Yunus, an international opera star who has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, will join operatic virtuosos tenor Matthew DiBattista and baritone Dan Kempson to sing Carmina. These three voices will be accompanied by more than 300 singers from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Wichita Community Children’s Choir and Friends University Singing Quakers. On Sunday, the Bethel College Concert Choir will take the place of the Singing Quakers.

“It (Carmina) has a directness that is almost unmatched,” said Daniel Hege, the symphony’s music director and conductor. “It goes straight to the heart.”

Because Carmina is so recognizable, having been heard on numerous television commercials and movies, the symphony decided to add a special Blue Jeans concert. All the performers, including the musicians and choir, will dress down on Friday evening. The symphony and singers will be back in black formal wear and play Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 in addition to Carmina during Saturday and Sunday’s concerts.

“It’s probably the most exciting and engaging piece for the students,” said Mark Bartel, Friends University choral director. “It’s fun to sing something that’s the voice of real people and the voice of life.”

Bartel had his students read translations of the mostly Latin text. By understanding the language, the students become more engaged in the piece, he said. Bartel holds a master’s degree in sacred music, as well as a doctor of musical arts. He focused much of his research on 18th-century musical theory and choral music.

Bartel said the text was a challenge for the performers.

“There’s a kind of playfulness to the music,” he said.

For Carmina, Orff, a native of Munich, Germany, took medieval secular poems that were preserved in a Bavarian monastery and set them to music. Much of Carmina’s primal energy is demonstrated by five percussionists whose instruments range from glockenspiel to bass drum.

Although the work has an abundance of repetition, Hege said that Orff understood just how many times to repeat a phrase.

“It has harmonic language and rhythmic underpinnings,” Hege said. “He’s using medieval-sounding music but bringing in a much more modern approach. He knows how to ratchet up the tension to create engaged interest throughout the work.”

This audience-pleaser, with a stage full of children and adult choral members, professional musicians and top-notch opera singers, will balance instruments and voices to invite listeners to come along on a journey.

“This piece is talking about jolliness, enjoying life, love, sensuality and enjoying the pleasures of the earth: dancing, drinking great wine and eating great food,” Hege said.

But Carmina also delves into aspects of fate and examines what the cosmic wheel of fortune might have in store for us.

“This music is very artful. It can speak to the base side of the human spirit,” Hege said. “It’s brilliant.”

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