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Carmina Burana: A Cavalcade of Cooperation

Dan Kepl reviews the October 17/18, 2015 performance of Carmina Burana for Casa Magazine.

A CAVALCADE OF COOPERATION ignited a musical and visual event marking the opening of the Santa Barbara Symphony‘s [and Santa Barbara Choral Society’s] concert season. Last Saturday’s full house at the Granada Theatre gave currency, literally, to the value of collaborative effort. A celebration of Santa Barbara’s famously busy and exciting performing arts community, artistic partners included the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, State Street Ballet just back from a major tour of China, and the Santa Barbara Choral Society.

Carmina Burana 2015 Swan Sequence

Opening the concert, Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Op.72 was led by Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, who is celebrating his tenth season at the helm of the orchestra. Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, with the Santa Barbara Choral Society and countertenor Randall Scotting, conducted by the ensemble’s Artistic Director, JoAnne Wasserman, paved the way for the main attraction of the evening conducted by Kabaretti, a fully staged production of Orff’s splendidly entertaining Carmina Burana, set on State Street Ballet by New York City-based choreographer William Soleau in 2008 with costumes by A. Christina Giannini and lighting design by Lloyd Sobel.

Scene from Carmina Burana 2015. Photo by David Bazemore.

Scene from Carmina Burana 2015. Photo by David Bazemore.

Kabaretti was on fire Saturday, conducting with exciting rhythmic energy Beethoven’s third version of the overture to his only opera, Fidelio. Kabaretti’s interpretation was tightly finessed; appropriately dark and troubled in the opening section, increasingly confident and joyous as the story’s hoary past of sacrifice embraces the inevitable triumph of personal liberty over institutional slavery. Chichester Psalms was Bernstein’s first composition after his Third Symphony (Kaddish), dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy. In contrast to the anguish of Kaddish, the Psalms are more affirmative and even attain a sublime serenity, the composer at last content that humanity will survive another day. Conductor JoAnne Wasserman, attentive to Bernstein’s numerological interest in sevenths, both metrically and intervallically, in this piece, managed to inculcate confidence from her
singers despite the score’s often treacherous vocal terrain.

After intermission, the Santa Barbara Symphony, now hunkered in the Granada’s orchestra pit, its percussion battery flanking both sides of the hall’s proscenium arch ceremonially, the Choral Society mounted on risers above and behind a bare and darkened stage, Nir conducted a sonic and visual spectacle: State Street Ballet’s realization of William Soleau’s choreographic vision of Carl Orff’s perennially popular Carmina Burana. A vivid choral and orchestral tale of dread destiny (Sors immanis), good fortune (Sors salutis), and the burdens of the heart (Mihi cordi gravitas), with soloists, soprano Maria Rey-Joly, countertenor Scotting, and baritone Nigel Smith, the composer
intended Carmina to be a multidiscipline showcase of dance, music, song, and acting. State Street Ballet Principals Leila Drake Fossek and Thomas Fant brought to life the couple whose destiny is followed from youth to old age. The superb SSB corps of 18 dancers also enjoyed several opportunities to show off outstanding pairings, including character-rich performances by Sergei Domrachev, Marina Fliagina, Kate Kadow, Lilit Hogtanian, and Gary McKenzie. Lloyd Sobel’s lighting design enhanced the tale magically, while A.Christina Giannini’s costumes, a mix of earthy druidic and brighter medieval colors, brought to life the legends and rituals that Orff found so compelling. Soleau’s visual imagery throughout was both simple and symphonic, his unerringly savvy matching of
sound to movement, spot-on; likewise, orchestra, chorus, and soloists. A memorable evening.

Daniel Kepi has been writing music, theatre, and
dance reviews for Santa Barbara publications since
he was a teenager. His professional expertise is as an
orchestra conductor.