Back to Stage

O Fortune!

Carmina Burana spins the wheel at Tacoma City Ballet

Thirty-five agile ballerinas take stage with music known across the genres. Photo courtesy: Tacoma City Ballet

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

"O Fortuna," the opening chorus of Carl Orff's 1935 classic Carmina Burana, is as famous and ubiquitous a melody as any in 20th-century music. Its staccato chant added drama and majesty to the soundtracks of Excalibur, Speed, and Jackass: The Movie. It powered trailers for Glory and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. It sold Domino's, Old Spice, and The Sean Hannity Show. Now it blasts into Tacoma ... in the guise of 35 agile ballerinas. If that conjures images of tutu-clad sugarplum fairies on an unadorned stage, Tacoma City Ballet welcomes the opportunity to set matters straight. Carmina Burana is a complete work of theatre, at least as its composer intended.

"It takes a lot of wherewithal to hire the chorus, the orchestra, the conductor," said Erin Ceragioli, choreographer for Tacoma City Ballet's upcoming production and artistic director for the troupe. "Costumes and set pieces ... it all happens right from our heart. It's not that we import any of it. This is Tacoma talent for Tacoma." This will be a full-bore production for the Pantages stage, scaled up toward larger markets like Seattle or San Francisco. "When the curtain opens," Ceragioli said, "there are three girls on horizontal crosses fifteen feet above the stage floor ... One cross descends, then another ... It's not like a formal, classical ballet."

Ceragioli directed this production neoclassically, meaning her performers "don't dance on point. They're not in tutus, they're in unitards ... The boys are in black, because they're ‘mankind,' and the girls are all the things that happen to them. One of the girls is ‘the wine bottle in the tavern,' for example. She's wearing burgundy. Everything is done in colors. Lady Venus is red ... It's a magic tableau. We have the Tacoma Symphony Chorus. We have the Vivace Treble Choir, a children's chorus, and then we have the orchestra in the pit and ballet dancers."

"Orff never intended Carmina Burana to be shown without dancers," she continued. Indeed, Orff described his hour-long score as "secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images."

So what is this spectacle about, anyway?  In its original form, Carmina Burana, Latin for "Songs of (Benedikt) Beuern (Monastery)," was Johann Schmeller's 1847 collection of medieval poetry. It's a mixture of the sacred and satirical, the celestial and carnal. Its songs are directed at drinkers, lovers and gamblers. Lady Fortune spins her great wheel, thereby deciding the fate of all living things, while the cycles of nature enchant by reviving "the joyous face of spring." Wealth is fleeting; love is eternal. "Hateful life," the libretto intones, "first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it." Orff chose two dozen poems, arranging them theatrically while emphasizing rhythm over polyphonic harmony.

"The wheel of fortune is the frontispiece," Ceragioli explained, "in that Fate controls what happens to mankind. Really, there is no free will. So all these forces - the force of nature, the force of the goddesses, the flowers of the field, the wine in the tavern, the passions that affect us - all control what happens. There's fantastic scenery. The colors are vivacious. The music is extremely powerful and beautiful." The solos, are in fact, notoriously difficult, featuring high notes for baritones and falsetto runs for tenors. It's scored for a huge orchestra including a gong, and three, count 'em, three glockenspiels - and that was before Orff threw in a boys choir, half a dozen soloists and two adult choruses.

What, no cannon fire?

CARMINA BURANA, 7:30 p.m. Sat., May 14; 3 p.m. Sun., May 15, Tacoma City Ballet, Pantages Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma, $15-$80, 253.591.5890

Read next close


Free museum admission

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search