Luisi, DSO serve up a rousing double helping of Carl Orff

Fri May 12, 2023 at 12:53 pm
By J. Robin Coffelt
Fabio Luisi conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana Thursday night. Photo: Sylvia Elzafon

Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has become one of the most popular twentieth-century choral compositions. The 1937 cantata invariably fills concert halls and such was the case once again Thursday night with the performance by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by music director Fabio Luisi.
The first half of the program, featuring Orff’s other “Carmina,” was considerably less familiar, and Catulli Carmina was being performed by the DSO for the very first time.

There are some important logistical reasons for this. While Catulli uses a full chorus and soprano and tenor soloists, in lieu of an orchestra, Orff calls for four pianos and twice that number of percussionists—and those only for the Praelusio and Exodium, the first and final movements.

Orff’s Catulli Carmina, which requires four pianos, was performed by the DSO Thursday night. Photo: Sylvia Elzafon

While Carmina Burana is known for some racy Latin lyrics, the text of Catulli Carmina is PG-13, mostly based on the poems of the Roman Catullus. The music itself will sound familiar to Carmina Burana fans, with its focus on rhythmic interest rather than harmonic complexity.
Tenor Herbert Lippert and soprano Audrey Luna, portraying Catullus and his lover Lesbia, displayed some fine singing here—as they did in the more familiar Carmina, Orff asks much of his soloists here. Lippert in particular was able to maintain a sort of jokey manner in a difficult part. The chorus, under guest director Anthony Blake Clark, sometimes lacked the knife-edged precision audiences have come to expect from them, although they were still worthy in demanding music. Percussion and pianos were terrific, adding texture to the opening and closing sections.
After intermission came what most were waiting for, Carmina Burana. Soprano Luna and baritone Sean Michael Plumb had the range (and high notes) required for their roles. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo—a starry substitution for the indisposed Andreas Scholl— in his lone aria as the Roasted Swan, has the voice for the role, sang appealingly playing the cameo a little less for laughs than is common. The double chorus brought great verve and spirit and the Dallas Symphony Children’s Chorus, prepared by director Ellie Lin, excelled. The large orchestra displayed their customary polish as they usually do when their music director is on the podium.
At the conclusion of the evening, the audience roared their approval before Luisi’s baton had even lowered.
The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

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