Cantata making itself heard twice

October 22, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The medieval monks and wandering scholars who composed the poems and songs collectively known as the "Carmina Burana" will give Annapolitans a lot to sing about during this concert season.

As set to music by 20th-century German composer Carl Orff, the lusty, secular cantata "Carmina Burana" will be sung in its entirety by the Naval Academy Glee Club this spring in a concert that ought to give the new Hope Center's acoustic tiles a run for their money.

And two of our area's other premiere performing organizations, the Ballet Theater of Annapolis and the Annapolis Chorale, pooled their artistic assets this weekend to produce a multimedia "Carmina" at Maryland Hall.

"The Eleventh Commandment," choreographer Edward Stewart's balletic allegory of good and evil was the centerpiece of the BTA's fall program. The troupe was accompanied by the Chorale, three quality soloists, two pianists, and a large complement of percussion instruments in selected portions of the Orff cantata. The chorale was augmented by young singers from the Indian Creek, Key and Severn schools.

"The Eleventh Commandments" story line features a trio of monks who struggle against temptations of the flesh and eventually, Satan himself.

Rescued from the devil, they ascend to heaven before returning to the monastery, where two ultimately succumb to temptation, leaving the third kneeling before the cross.

It's tough to be good, I guess.

The BTA seems to be in excellent shape these days. Mr. Stewart's eye for drama is still one of the company's principal assets. "The Eleventh Commandment" was indeed a riveting piece of theater.

Jo Anibal Macedo, the newly engaged principal male dancer has already asserted himself as a major company attraction. His stage presence is truly commanding. His jumps are stratospheric, and his extraordinary energy comes forth dramatically as well as physically.

All aspects of this production were exciting, including the remarkable set design and lighting, which were fully at the service of the movement.

The Chorale sang well enough to provide evocative background music, though had this been a complete concert performance of "Carmina" minus dance, there might have been some real problems. The men were nowhere to be found in the opening and closing "O Fortuna," and when they did finally surface in "Ecce Gratum," it was to no great dramatic effect. The stage-left gentlemen also had some real trouble following conductor Ernest Green's tempo in the "In Taberna Quando Sumus."

But the total effect of the music was certainly appealing, and the two pianos and assorted percussion sounded weighty and exciting.

I had to wonder a bit about "Carmina Burana" as background music, though. The good vs. evil morality play was actually superimposed atop "Carmina" and doesn't really come from the piece itself.

The central metaphor of "Carmina Burana" is the engagement of the cosmic "wheel of fortune" that mechanistically revolves us in the direction of our fate. I'm not sure that this medieval vision is fully compatible with the theme of the ballet.

While always evocative, the music didn't always match the circumstance. Satan entered to the strains of "Ego sum abbas" ("I Am the Abbott") and you have to wonder about an infernal satanic dance accompanied by the zippy "in taberna" sequence: "When we are in the tavern we take no thought for the grave, but fTC rush to the gaming tables."

Familiarity with the music, in short, might have gotten in the way of the ballet a bit unless Orff was emphatically relegated to the background by the listener.

I have no reservations about the rest of the ABT program, which included the wonderfully slinky "arm in arm in arm . . ." danced beautifully to the melodies of Nana Vasconcelos and an extended "Pas de Deux" performed exquisitely by the aforementioned Macedo and his graceful partner, Cynthia Bernshausen.

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