June 4th, 2006

Egrets Reading

Carmina Burana

O Fortuna
velut Luna
statu varabilis
aut decrescis;


Today, I attended a magnificent performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at the Mondavi Center on the UC Davis campus. I flew up this morning & will fly home tomorrow at dawn.

It was performed by the UC Davis University Chorus, UC Davis Symphony, UC Davis alumni chorus, and the Pacific Boychoir with soloists Shawnette Sulker, soprano; Gerald Thomas Gray, tenor; and Malcolm MacKenzie, baritone, conducted by Jeffrey Thomas. My son was part of the alumni chorus & my daughter and her boyfriend drove over from Santa Cruz.

Words fail me as I try to describe this concert. It's a dynamic piece and they played it BIG with over 225 singers, an oversized orchestra with beefed up percussion section (gong, several sets of large timpani drums, cymbals, two pianos, the whole works!)

Carmina Burana is essentially a choral work made up of a set of 13th century poems about drunkenness and casual sexual encounters, about springtime and the fickleness of fortune.

The first movement, O Fortuna, the most easily recognizible section of music in the work, has been heard by almost everyone whether or not they know it. They may know the music as the "Excalibur theme," or as background music from Natural Born Killers (capture of Mickey and Mallory Knox scene)as a theme used in WWF wrestling or various commercials.

Many people don't have a clue that it's part of "Carmina Burana", let alone what the words mean.

According to the program translation, the first stanza goes like this:

O Fortune
Like the moon
You are changeable,
ever waxing
and waning.
Hateful life,
first oppresses,
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty,
and power,
it melts them like ice.


It sounds like it could be in Star*Line, doesn't it?

The concert program provided the full text - both as it was written for the choral work in a sort of mixture of Latin with bits of Old French and Middle High German - and a translation into English.

If I had any beef at all with the experience, it was with the audience. Because everyone was so fascinated by the text provided in the program, many people read the words as the singers sang them which meant that you could hear the sound of a sold-out audience turning pages during pauses between movements. I read the texts avidly before the performance and during intermission but I just sat back and let the music flow over me during the performance itself and just enjoyed it thoroughly.