Soprano superstar perfect for soaring classic


POSTED: Monday, April 06, 2009

The Blaisdell Concert Hall will be buzzing on Easter weekend as soprano superstar Sumi Jo joins the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for Carl Orff's classic, “;Carmina Burana.”;




'Carmina Burana'

        Honolulu Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus and University of Hawaii Chamber Singers:

» In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
        » Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
        » Tickets: $19 to $70; 20 percent discount for military and seniors; students $10. Available at Ticketmaster outlets, (800) 745-3000, or ticketmaster.com
        » Call: 792-2000 (weekdays) or 524-0815, ext. 245 (evenings), or visit www.honolulusymphony.com


First performed in 1937 in Germany, “;Carmina Burana”; is an exhilarating experience. Each movement is a vignette filled with music to please the senses. It is grand, raunchy, enticing and intimate, evoking every mood and embracing some rather X-rated poetry.

Not surprisingly, “;Carmina Burana”; has crossed over from being a “;classical”; masterpiece into popular culture. It has been used in movies from “;Excalibur”; and “;Glory”; to “;The Doors”; and “;Natural Born Killers.”; Fans of Steve Martin even heard it in “;Cheaper by the Dozen.”; TV loves it, too: Gatorade, Guinness and Old Spice are among the brands that have used it in commercials.

The text of “;Carmina Burana”; is a manuscript of more than 200 poems written in the 13th century, discovered in the early 19th century in Bavaria.

The “;plot twist”; of this colorful story is that the poetry was penned mainly by students of clergy from universities in France, Germany and Italy. They were almost certainly about to denounce the “;pleasures”; of the world for the lives of monks.

The manuscript includes all aspects of life: love, lust, drinking and the heightened moods evoked by the spring season. It was written in a mixture of Medieval Latin with liberal use of Old German and Old French.

Orff's vision for the poetry resulted in what he called a “;scenic cantata”; for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, a large mixed choir and an orchestra with a huge percussion section that includes two pianos and five timpani. To create this spectacle, 23 members of the University of Hawaii Chamber Singers, plus the heavenly voices of the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, will join more than 130 singers of the Honolulu Symphony Chorus and the orchestra onstage.

The cantata opens (and ends) with the famous choral address “;O Fortuna.”; It is followed by 23 numbers grouped into three major clusters: “;Spring,”; “;In the Tavern”; and “;The Court of Love.”;

Reducing melody and rhythm to its most basic elements, Orff's music is built upon small units of melody and rhythm subjected to repetitions. Avoiding all counterpoint or polyphony, Orff's striking simplicity makes use of strophic songs with rhythmic ostinatos, as well. He also plays with dynamics in terraces, moving from soft to loud or loud to soft in a single beat.

In the lyrical and emotional sections (for example, the two soprano solos), Orff uses an operatic style. In these moments, Sumi Jo's glorious voice will create the magic that Orff envisioned.

This is music that caused a sensation when it premiered more than 70 years ago. Today, “;Carmina Burana”; continues to hold audiences captive with its appealing medieval grandeur.


Esther Yoo is Honolulu Symphony Chorus artistic director. “;Crescendo”; appears on the Monday prior to each concert of the season. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).