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Carmina Burana Afterthoughts: A rousing start to the season

If you attended the Tampa Bay Bucs game and a TFO concert over the weekend, you got a supercharged dose of the same music.

Both football and orchestra fans felt the blast of Carl Orff’s barbaric and hypnotic Carmina Burana, a snippet of which resounded through Raymond James Stadium and in its entirety during the opening program of TFO’s 2022-23 season.

Music Director Michael Francis saved the 65-minute cantata for last, opening Friday’s night’s concert at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts with a softly etched Nimrod from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations – dedicating the music to the victims of Hurricane Ian.

The orchestra then joined forces with The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay in both suites from Maurice Ravel’s luminous Daphnis et Chloé. Here was a large ensemble playing with the transparency of chamber music, the delicate solos piercing the air and a wordless choir creating an ethereal atmosphere.

Francis, of course, is part showman, and after intermission turned up the volume with Carmina and its opening and closing O Fortuna! chorus, among the most abrupt primal screams in the classical canon. Since its premiere in Germany in 1937, Carmina belongs nowhere but exists everywhere – like an apparition floating back and forth through medieval and modern times.

“It’s the most extraordinary, powerful spectacle of music you can ever wish to see and hear,’’ Francis said earlier. “It’s a piece you have to hear live at least once in your life.’’

Matthew Abernathy, artistic director of the Master Chorale, called the opening moments iconic: “It’s cinematic, much like a film score. But even through the entire work, there’s something about the music that’s exciting and thrilling. It’s captivating in an undefinable way.’’

Yes, we’ve heard this popular work before – orchestra and chorus have teamed up for eight productions since 1988 – but each one differs. On Friday, the sheer force of sound was blistering, which made the tender moments poignant. During the lighthearted humming section, the singers all smiled as they swayed back and forth, in synch with the talented Lumina Youth Choir in its elevated perch in the balcony at Friday’s performance in the Straz Center.

All three soloists held their ground. Soprano Jeni Houser nailed her high-note coloratura aria; tenor John Kaneklides, wearing a feathered tuxedo, hammed it up as the roasted swan; and baritone Jean Carlos Rodriguez’s earthy songs added gravitas to the mix.

With its coloristic ballet music and balance of sublime and daring, this last program hints of what’s ahead. TFO strikes a similar note Oct. 21-23 with a pairing of famous ballet scores, Tchaikovsky’s lyrical Swan Lake and Stravinsky’s biting The Rite of Spring.

A rarity and an audience favorite follow Nov. 5-6 with Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and no self-proclaimed romantic will want to miss a Nov. 12-13 performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Al Galletly

    Many thanks for your terrific review,

  2. Michelle Bearden

    As always, your writing makes me deeply regret I missed this concert! (we were out of town). Thanks for the heads-up on some future must-see performances.

  3. Brian Hathaway

    Thank you for your notes on this performance. As a singer in the bass section of the Master Chorale for 15 years, I performed Carmina Burana many times, but this was the best ever. I performed the full Daphnis et Chloe ballet score several years back with Maestro Francis and TFO, but this was my first performance of Suites 1 and 2 and it was magical. I felt that we were well prepared by our new Artistic Director, Matt Abernathy and felt confident going into concert week. It has always been a thrill to work with Michael Francis and his ability to frame the music collaboratively among the soloists, orchestra and choir has been a joy to behold. There is no substitute for live music and it has been a pleasure to be a part of it.

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