Carmina Burana: Hi, Latin!

Local Arts Reviews

Carmina Burana: Hi, Latin!

Bass Concert Hall,

June 4

Fortune is as inconstant as the moon, sayeth the Carmina Burana. Which means that life, going through its phases, can be bogged in misery one day, then be all beer and skittles the next, and, hey, that's just the way the wafer transubstantiates. It is definitely our good fortune, though, to be able to hear the Carmina Burana itself relating all these things to us, through the agencies of the Conspirare Orchestra, accompanied by the Conspirare Symphonic Choir and the Bridge Point Concert Choir, with solo performances by Jennie Olson, Douglas Anderson, and Robert Breault providing such strategic nails in the coffin of silence. But it's our great fortune to have this rendition of Carl Orff's masterwork conducted by Craig Hella Johnson, artistic director of the New Texas Music Works company responsible for the festival of which the Carmina is a part.

It's our great fortune, not because Johnson is such a fine conductor (which he is) or because he has made such interesting choices for the festival's program (which he has), but because the man has more goddamn charm and amiability and basic welcomingness than, than, than just about anybody you can imagine. At his joyous insistence, and after a few sloppy warm-ups, the entire audience accompanied the musicians by voicing the first two lines of the work's opening. I mean, seriously accompanied: For those first couple of lines about fortune being like the moon, it was a bona fide singalong! In UT's Bass Concert Hall, for a performance where the tickets range from 10 to 40 bucks, with classically trained musicians occupying the stage, with much finery and upscale roughage and black-tie hobnobbing, there's this man -- this young blonde imp of a man, wielding a professional baton and bubbling over with enthusiasm -- onstage, encouraging the audience to help begin the thundering calvacade that is the Carmina Burana.

After that, the actual performance could have sucked and I wouldn't have been much less impressed. I often crank up the Carmina on my living room's CD player and shout along in approximation of Latin verses that I don't even understand, so Craig Hella Johnson started off this concert by making me feel right at home; his obvious glee with both the audience and the music made it seem like a good new friend was introducing me to one of his favorite old friends. And, too, the actual performance didn't suck.

Okay, there were instances when it seemed that the chorus didn't quite come in on time, as if they were maybe half a beat off and had to catch up; and there was a certain bass drone, albeit in appropriate parts, which my untrained ear can never distinguish between woodwinds or deep strings but which sounded, more so than in any of the versions I'm familiar with, like, what the hell, just go ahead and use a didgeridoo there, for God's sake.

A personal tic of my own, perhaps.

And, in all, it was the usual exhilarating sonic roller coaster of songs about love and lust and way too much drinking in the Middle Ages that we've heard sampled in movie soundtracks for nigh on half a century now. Except that one other element did stand out as brilliantly as the exuberance of conductor Johnson: the tenor, Robert Breault. It wasn't just that Breault's voice was phenomenal (which it was), and it wasn't only that he embellished his role with clever, almost Mr. Bean-like pantomime (which he did); it was that he was just so into the whole thing that he gave off such a feeling of there's-nothing-else-in-the-whole-world-that-I'd-be-happier-to-do-right-now-than-this that it matched Johnson's own gung-ho peaks.

And those peaks are high enough to reach any moon, constant or otherwise. What Mr. Johnson might choose to do next, I don't know. But it's not to be missed. Unlike fortune, that is for sure.

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New Texas Festival, New Texas Music Works, Carmina Burana, Carl Orff, Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare Orchestra, Conspirare Symphonic Choir, Bridge Point Concert Choir, Jennie Olson, Douglas Anderson, Robert Breault,

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