Carmina Burana!

I went with my friends Mark and Erika to get some culture today. We saw a performance of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff performed by the Master Chorale of Washington at the Kennedy Center. I got an email months ago advertising $10 tickets for the performance. It came about two weeks after Mark had been looking at CDs of the piece. By the time we were ready to order tickets, the $10 tix were sold out, but they were still selling seats for $25. Not too shabby.

Oh, in case your wondering, "Carmina who?" take a listen--you know this music and have probably heard it in plenty of movies and commercials.

We get to our seats and see in the program that we're first going to hear a piece by Randall Thompson called Frostiana, which was a collection of Robert Frost poems set to music. It was quiet and soothing and quite lovely. (The guy sitting next to me commented on how the "voices caressed the music." I couldn't never come up with a comment like that on my own, but I knew what he meant, and he was right.)

Oh! Before the performance started, a gentleman from a local radio station came out and announced that this was the final performance of the Master Chorale of Washington. Ever. This was it. We had no idea. It suddenly made sense to me why the audience was SO excited when the chorale came out--they gave a standing ovation before the show, which I found unusual. Now it all made sense. Mark and I were lamenting that we (not just he and I...all people) don't support the arts like we should, and it's a shame that a group like the MCW has to stop performing. I'm going to make an effort to do better. We have a beautiful concert hall just 25 minutes away and easily accessible by Metro. There are no excuses.

OK. So, we hear Frostiana, and then after intermission, it was time for Carmina Burana. This is from the program:
The governing image of Carmina Burana is cycles, tying the highs and lows of the Wheel of Fate to the return of springtime and the annual surge of love and carnal passion.** The opening chorus, "Fortune (Fate), Empress of the World," at once sets the mood of mystery, longing, and ritualistic chanting for the entire work, and it will return in exact repetition to round the cycle at the end.
When that first chorus started, with the timpani drums and the gong and the beautiful voices and the crescendo--I just got chills. It was wonderful and so powerful. The crowd roared when it was over, and then, since this was the final performance, the applause went on for probably 15 minutes. There was a brief encore, and then another 5 minutes of applause. I'm so sorry that this is the first time I've heard this chorale and that it has to be the last.

**Carmina burana is mentioned in a song called "La Vie Bohème" from RENT. It's nice to finally get the reference, and it makes perfect sense now since La Vie Bohème is about living and acting free without regard to conventional rules and practices.

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp from the original Broadway cast are both touring with Rent now, and guess what? Deb and I will be there to see them on May 27! It's been 13 years since we first saw them on Broadway. CAN'T WAIT!! (Before you ask, I've lost track of how many times we've seen Rent. I think this will be 12 or 13....Maybe 14.)

Update: I got a comment from Esther, who performed with the chorale. I checked out her blog, where she expressed her thoughts on the chorale's existence coming to an end.


Mark said...

It was great to be able to see Carmina Burana performed live. O Fortuna, the portion that everyone is familiar with, is heavy and powerful and awesome -- awesome in the original sense of the word -- and recordings just can't compare to what it sounded like live. Still, I will buy Carmina Burana on CD -- the recording by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with James Levine conducting seems to be highly regarded -- and I'll just have to listen to at a frighteningly loud volume.

I'll also add that it was an unexpected and bittersweet privilege to see the Master Chorale of Washington's final performance; it's truly a shame that the chorale is, as of this evening, officially defunct. It'd be an even bigger shame if we don't recognize this for what it is: an indication that the more refined arts are in dire need of our support. In one of the most educated and cultured cities in the country, the MCW just had to close its doors for lack of patrons. More on this later but in short, it's time we start making a concerted effort to support the more refined arts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I was wondering how those in our audience for the first time would react to the news of the choir closing.

I'm also heartened to read that you want to support the arts more as a result.

If there is anything good that came from our choir closing it would be that people perhaps will pay more attention to the arts that are still going strong.

Momo Fali said...

Wow. I absolutely recognize that and imagine it was quite an experience (and a bargain too)!