Here’s what happened when word got out about our plans to stage Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana: We had interest from singers, “Carmina groupies” one board member dubbed them, who wanted to join us in the last quarter of the season. Just to sing the masterwork.
VCS: You do realize you’ll still have to pay dues, buy the music, and the attire, and it’ll be just for this one concert, right?
Singer: Yes! OMG I just want to sing Carmina! Please can I join? Here, take my money!
And then there were the singers who came back from retirement and/or rearranged previous work conflicts that had dogged them all season, just so they too could sing Carmina.
What the heck is it about Orff’s masterwork that moves us so?
For the uninitiated, you may assume that Carmina Burana is your stereotypical classical work. Complete with soaring music, a text with Kyries and Glorias, and a stationary, oh-so-serious chorus of voices singing music that moves you, but you don’t know why. Between the sweeping phrases of Latin (and German!), the thunder of the timpani, and that vague recollection of an Old Spice or an Australian beer commercial (“It’s A Big Ad!”), you are ready to enthusiastically applaud at the end of the 40-50-60 minute stretch.
Carmina Burana, however, is an entire world unto itself. It’s not an opera, a mass, or a requiem, but it has movements and a sequence. It is not a play or a musical, but it has a plot. Well, sort of…plus, we helped it along a little bit for this production.
Carmina is a work about extremes—of the ups and downs of life, fortune and fate, desire and despair. The rises and falls are big, but you will recognize your human selves in them. The musicians (and by extension you, their audience) are literally scaling the full expanse of musical and human experience in one evening. It’s like the singer’s version of “shop ‘til you drop.” It’s the soap opera of the classical world.
Oh, in case the music and emotion of Carmina weren’t enough, you’re gonna sing all of the aforementioned in lyrics that switch between pure, high, Latin and low, coarse, German with some “other” thrown into the mix. Because see, Carmina also involves booze (resulting in what turns out to be nonsense high Latin, who knew?), serious snark (which makes you wonder about the safety of the writers—more on that in a bit), high love and low love (you can sort that one out for yourselves), and the higher questions of, literally, the meaning of life.
The thing is, Carmina was written by a bunch of sardonic monks, the kind who were less than impressed with what they had come to learn about the church they trained for and served. They also had access to words, pen, and the pharmaceuticals of the day, and therefore proceeded to write a thing that mashed up the language of the elite and the mosh pit. They knew and broke the rules to deliberately transgress between forms to create a work whose full title in English translates to “Songs Of Beuren: Secular Songs For Singers And Choruses To Be Sung Together With Instruments And Magic Images.”
Also they were defrocked.
Honestly, it’s like Phillip Glass decided to channel Prince and joined forces with Garth Brooks to seek out mutual friends in low places. The result is nothing short of witty, sly, richly musical, strategically iconoclastic, and oh yeah, bigger than the stage. It’s why Carmina has endured for generations. It’s why the groupies arrived late in the season.
We hope you will, too!
We sing Carmina Burana at 7:30 pm, Saturday, May 21, 2016, Vienna Baptist Church (541 Marshall Road SW, Vienna, VA 22180). There will be two soloists, two pianos, five percussionists, fifty-something kids from the Mosby Woods Elementary School’s Mustang Chorus (playing Orff instruments, singing, and turning themselves in set pieces), 75 VCS singers, a bassoon, a cello, a giant wheel, a garden, and one ballerina. Please join us!
Tickets are available online until 11:30 pm, Friday, May 20, 2016. Tickets are $25/adults, $20/Seniors(65+) and Students (15-18). Youth aged 14 and younger attend free if accompanied by a paying audience member. Tickets are also available through VCS singers.