Colorado Repertory Singers Tackle “Carmina Burana”
A review by Marc Shulgold
There’s no place to hide in Carl Orff’s insanely popular choral masterpiece Carmina Burana. This sprawling work demands huge, often unfair contributions from everyone on board – conductor, chorus, instrumentalists and three vocal soloists. No one is spared.
So you have to hand it to the brave ambitions of Mark Stamper and the 50 members of his Colorado Repertory Singers, who performed the Orff before a large and enthusiastic audience Friday (March 20) in the Broomfield High School Auditorium.
But then, courage in the face of overwhelming odds can only go so far in a live concert.
Alas, this was not to be a Carmina for the ages, though it was obvious that a lot of fine preparation had gone into this single performance: The singers knew their parts and Stamper impressively conducted from memory, offering fine direction and plenty of encouraging body English.
For starters, this was bound to be an unbalanced reading, since Orff’s large and colorful orchestration was reduced here to a two-piano transcription (Tad Koriath on a closed-lid baby grand and Heidi Thomas on an upright), augmented by six – count ’em, six – percussionists. Banging on all sorts of bangable things, the sextet of Peter Cooper, Zack Argotsinger, Mark Foster, Allison Greenbaum, Neil Matlock and Dan Quisenberry were unwisely placed downstage right (all but blocking the view of folks seated below) and often succeeded, through no fault of their own, in drowning out both pianists as well as the chorus.
Not helping matters was the unflattering, super-dry acoustics of the auditorium, although the spaciousness of the room worked well when the nearly 100 members of the Colorado Children’s Chorale lined both sidewalls for their brief contributions late in the work.
Naturally, Carmina lives or dies with the onstage chorus. There were moments when the group held its own, but right from the start it was clear that the singers lacked the requisite numbers, unbridled lustiness and wide range of vocal color to do Orff justice. The work opens with the famous “O Fortuna,” featuring crashing percussion supporting choral blasts, alternating with ominous oom-pah instrumental accompaniments under equally ominous choral whispers. Stamper missed the boat with those tension-filled whispers, seeming content to let his singers simply sing the notes impassively.
The soprano and alto sections sounded confident, ably handling the highest of the high notes. In their exposed solo moments, the men came off underpowered, though intonation throughout was never a problem. Incidentally, Stamper handed the baton to conducting fellow Mike Ballard, who did solid work in the “Floret Silva.”
The consistently cruel solos were capably delivered by baritone David Grogan, tenor Max Hosmer and soprano Emily Murdock. All three managed those ridiculous high notes. One could see that Murdock was steeling herself for that sudden, devilish leap up the vocal ladder as she lets loose about giving her all to that “Sweetest boy.” However, the soprano’s “In trutina” failed to soar on the sheer sweetness of its gentle melody.
As mentioned, the Concert Choir of the Colorado Children’s Chorale contributed impressively from out in the hall. To open the evening, the group offered a charming, well-received, cutely choreographed 30-minute set, under the spirited direction of Mary Louise Burke, assisted by pianist Fernanda Nieto.