Behind the Scenes with @Colorado.Ballet and Carmina Burana – Day 4: Celebrating the Manly Ones!
Today was a doubleheader: daytime performance for area high school students, followed by our final dress rehearsal. Arrived at 11 am, dismissed by 6 pm. Phew! As challenging as it was to sing this hour-long score twice today (and man, those robes grew hotter by the hour), I am even more in awe of the dancers and their endurance. I can’t imagine dancing these two ballets twice in a single day. (which they will do, with typical dedication, come this Saturday!)
On second viewing, Serenade was even more lovely and heartrending today; the women in this company dance it so beautifully. (Not to slight the few men in the cast, but you know Balanchine! Serenade is all about The Woman.)
My post today, however, celebrates the Manly Ones. Carmina Burana—even with its bevy of fetching young maidens—is all about The Men. They have much more to sing than the women in the chorus, thanks to the guys-only In Taberna (In the Tavern) section. Here, the chorus (plus tenor and baritone soloists) sing about anger, grief, misery, the loss of joy, the pleasures of the flesh, the succor of drink and the welcome distraction of the gambling table. Railing against the capriciousness of Fortune, they drink in the face of death, and inform us that everyone else does so, too: the lowliest among us, the soldier, the servant, the stupid and the wise, the swift and the lazy, the loose woman, the exiled man, the penitent and the prisoner, the monk, bishop and deacon, all the way up to the Pope and the King. HA ha!
First, kudos to the men in Colorado Ballet, for the brio and bravura with which they dance these four numbers. Such no-holds-barred lust, fury, and penitence. They’re great.
But my biggest shout-out goes to my choral brethren in our Evans Choir. From our very first read-through of the score 2 ½ wks ago (you read that right), they’ve blown me away with their clarity, their power, and their vocal depth and expressiveness. The 30-odd number of them produce a powerful and gorgeous sound. The excellence is on point, people!
Carmina, especially the Il Taberna section, is a fiendishly challenging score to sing. The tempos change within a single song at a maddening pace. For example, the final baritone solo, Circa Mea Pectora (In My Heart), starts out in 6, and by the fifth measure, changes to a bar of 3, followed by a bar of 5 and goes into a measure of 7. (Thankfully it shifts to a 2-count when the full SATB chorus enters.) Another number, Tempus Est Iocundum (This Joyful Time) alternates between a 4-count and a 3-count, then back to 4, but speeds up every measure after that. It’s nuts! SO fun to sing if you can get it right, but no small task doing so. We are on our toes the entire time!
Back to the all-guy Il Taberna and how fabulous our guys sound. At first, lamentation abounds: they sing, “Misery, misery!” with the tenor, shout “Woe Woe!” with the baritone. They burn inside with anger and for their sins are then (figuratively) a-roast on a spit. Escaping to the tavern, they sing a final chorus of 8th and 16th notes at rapid-fire tempo, over five full pages of music and what seems like MILES of dense lyrics full of tongue twisters (in Latin!), and tempos switching from 4 to 3 and back, slowing down/speeding up over and over. I can’t adequately express in words how truly difficult this section of the music is, or how hard to sing in six-part harmony, cleanly, as one voice, both pianissimo (very softly) AND sempre staccatissimo (staccato, but even sharper and more detached, i.e. hyper-articulated). For the record, singing anything very softly, or very quickly, or BOTH, is Just. Damn. Hard. 'Nuff said.
Not to mention, in rehearsal the guys have, to a man, been singing these songs over and over again, and in the dressing room each day before we go on, because we have to get all of the music to that point of agreement between orchestra, chorus, and dancers. Not to mention, most of the time they are singing behind one (or 2!) scrims, making it pretty hard to see the conductor, and with dancers’ moving bodies also blocking the view. Yet through this entire process, the men in our Evans Choir have sung cheerfully, tirelessly, and with an inspiring amount of enthusiasm, focus, and professionalism. They sound powerful, assertive, mournful, vengeful, funny, and above all, fabulous. I’m pretty much in awe of them.