The Skylight Music Theatre, in collaboration with three other Milwaukee performing arts companies, presents Carmina Burana, Carl Orff’s incendiary cantata and homage to destiny, love, and nature, for the first time.
Directed by Jill Anna Ponasik and featuring an all-ages cast of 62, including members of Skylight, Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Danceworks Performance Company and Chant Claire Chamber Choir, Friday’s night’s show boasted avante-garde choreography, lovely music, enchanting operatic singing and minimal, yet evocative, scenery.
Beginning and ending with the haunting, powerful “O Fortuna (O Fortune)” Carmina takes its audience on a journey through a tempestuous love affair, employing the seasons of winter, spring and summer as metaphors for warmth, happiness, rebirth and death. Orff’s songs, composed and performed in Latin and his native language, German, examine the Wheel of Fortune, a symbol which represents the role that fate plays within the human condition.
A small orchestra with six percussionists and two pianists, conducted by Benjamin Bedroske, successfully captured all of the drama and emotion of Orff’s deeply expressive score.
“Carmina Burana” cast; photo by Ross ZentnerBaritones Bob Balderson and Jason Martin, sopranos Cecilia Davis and Laura Basse, altos Alaina Carlson and Jackie Willis, and tenors Emanuel Camacho and Tim Rebers sang solo parts with clarity, gusto and pathos. A talented ensemble of youth performers and a children’s choir, which included Landon Martin, Marcia Olson, Isabel Franco, Lorelei Wesselowski and KyLee Hennes added liveliness to scenes “Primo Vere” (In the Spring), “Uf dem anger” (In the Meadow) and “Cour D’amours” (Court of Love).
Choreographer Dani Kuepper’s graceful dances were a pleasure to watch, showcasing many superb performers, among them Christal Wagner in “Stetit Puella” (A Girl Stood in a Red Tunic) and “Circa Mea Pectora” (In My Heart, Your Eyes Flash), and Posy Knight in “In Trutina” (I Choose What I See).
The “In Taberna” (In the Tavern) scene, with its rowdy musical number “In Taberna Quando Sumus” (When We’re in the Tavern) injected comic relief into the performance. Dancer Zach Schorsch, who wore a sequined silver jumpsuit, was particularly enjoyable to watch. His tossing McDonald’s fries to hungry bar patrons drew plenty of laughs from the audience.
Shima Orans’ costumes – a mix of flowing, elegant dresses; sleeveless gray hooded sweatshirts; ragged shirts and pants; and business-casual clothing – gave the production a modern feel. Scenic designer Lisa Schlenker’s images of the moon, wildflowers and other scenes of nature projected on a circular screen, along with Jason Fassl’s dazzling lighting, helped convey the mercurial moods of Orff’s cantata.
Carmina Burana will run through March 31 at the Skylight Music Theatre, 158 N. Broadway.