Why “Carmina Burana” tickets were in such high demand

Nathan Lane

The Conservatory of Music drew from many of its strengths Sunday, May 4 in order to put on Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” The piece, as Lawrence fellow Daniel Barolsky remarked in his introductory lecture, is most known for its first movement’s frequent appearance in summer epic films.
Though Barolsky tried to inform me of the complicated nature of the piece, and of its “erotic and sensual mores,” I feel a little bit cheated by using the first movement to establish an idea of Orff’s most famous work.
I went to the concert expecting German über-drama similar to what John Williams appropriated for the lightsaber duel between Qui-Gon and Darth Maul, and arrived to discover that after the first two sections, which are satisfyingly given Latin titles that mean “O, Fortune” and “I bemoan the wounds of Fortune,” the third song begins “The merry face of spring,” and the rest carries on in this fashion until the end.
Another surprising aspect of “Carmina Burana” is that, save the first movement, the lyrics are vulgar. At least they are according to the translation provided by Daniel Taylor, our recently retired classics professor.
You would not guess it, but that fricative-filled shout-sing from Third Reich Germany is actually about troubles of a horny man who cannot lust under summer’s spell.
Regardless of the meaning of the lyrics, the music performed that night was truly wonderful.
Soloist Steven Paul Spears strolled down the center aisle and filled the chapel with sound. Also of note was Tamara Wilson, the soprano soloist who possesses a voice of startling purity and range that seemed unchallenged even by the two-octave leap in one section of the work.
“Sick. Beautifully sick,” was how sophomore singer Patty Leclair described it, further clarifying that it was “nearly physically impossible.”
The LSO deserves credit as well. “Carmina Burana,” starkly lacking in harmony and laced with sections of tremendous transparency, is perfectly designed to amplify the errors of even a single musician.
However, those errors were not to be found. The orchestra also managed the multitude of styles required by a work that was originally played in opera houses, from the symphonic drama of the beginning to the discordant humor of the swan song.
I would like to levy one complaint against the baritone soloist; he strained painfully for the high notes. We have students who can do that much. Why hire out if it’s not perfect? Why hire out at all?