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Bringing the good time of 'Carmina Burana' to JDHS

Eighty-four singers to perform famous opera from walls of Europe

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Musical musings of defrocked monks will soon fill the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium.

On Saturday, the Juneau Lyric Opera's Mid-Summer Workshop performs Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." The piece is a collection of writings found on the walls of buildings in Europe. Scrawled by wandering minstrels and defrocked priests and monks, they extoll the simple pleasures of life.

"Their concern was not really so much religion as it was having a good time," said conductor Byron McGilvray. "This basically concerns women and drinking and eating."

Orff culled 24 lyrics from the original collection - discovered in 1847 by Johann Andreas Schmeller, a scholar of ancient dialects - and set them to music. The piece is arranged for soloists and chorus, and singers in the Juneau production will be joined by Sue Kazama and Doug Smith, each playing a grand piano, a percussion ensemble assembled by Lee Hacker and a number of woodwinds.

"Orff has put kind of a raw sound in there," McGilvray said. "It's very exciting and the percussion is vital to it. It's used as a punctuation and it's the heartbeat. You hear the heartthrob of the music."

Eighty-four singers will perform, with Bill Hurr, Kathleen Wayne, Dan Wayne, Lena Simmons, Cheryl Crawford and Brett Crawford performing solos. Simmons, who will sing the solo opening to the "Court of Love" segment, is also "Burana's" producer.

"It's very exciting," Simmons said. "It's very rousing music. You end up at the end exhausted but exhilarated."

The piece was selected by a poll of singers, and Simmons attributed the slight increase in the number of performers to "Burana's" familiarity as a piece of music. Segments have been used in many television commercials and films, including "Excalibur" and Oliver Stone's "The Doors."

"It's got a medieval feel so people like to use it for medieval movies and the like," Simmons said.

The language of the piece has presented a challenge to the singers. Though the notes aren't overly difficult, the Latin and Old German words used in "Burana" are unfamiliar to the majority of the singers.

"Most singers ... are used to singing church Latin," Simmons said. "This is definitely not sacred music and so the words are unfamiliar to a lot of us. It's very rhythmic and very accented, so that's taking some getting used to."

McGilvray has struggled to give the piece a genuine sound.

"I'm trying to make it as authentic as possible," he said. "We're not doing it with the standard Latin pronunciation, but more the one that one would find German choruses doing, more liturgical."

"Burana" represents a change of pace for the summer workshop, which takes place every other year. The previous three selections have all been requiems and the change of pace to the upbeat "Burana" is welcome, Simmons said.

"It was time to move," she said.

McGlivray thinks the show will be entertaining for both the performers and the audience.

"Often you'll have a piece of music that is a great performer's piece but not a great listener's piece and (vice versa)," he said. "This is one of both. It is a great performer's piece and a great listener's piece. Everybody can really get into it."

"Carmina Burana" will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday at the JDHS auditorium. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at the door or at either Hearthside Books location.



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