Preview: Canterbury Voices closing 50th anniversary season with favorite 'Carmina Burana'
An abbreviated version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Familiar 'Fortuna': Canterbury Voices closes 50th anniversary season with the beloved 'Carmina Burana'
Jamie O’Leary almost backed out of her Canterbury Voices audition, but she ultimately couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mark an item off her bucket list – and perform with her daughter.
“When I got there, the lady in front of me said, ‘I whipped up a German aria,’ and I thought, ‘Uh-oh. I probably don’t belong here. I should probably turn around.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to embarrass my daughter’ … but I had to be a good example to her. I couldn’t back out. … I thought, ‘She’d be so disappointed. All I’ve ever done is tell her to go for it,’” she said.
“What was so cool is my daughter – who I didn’t even think really paid attention to what I was doing that night – is texting me saying, ‘Mom, how did it go? … And she was really excited. That’s what made it all worth for me is how excited she was to be doing this together.”
A former professional violist, O’Leary said one of the pieces she always regretted not getting to play was Carl Orff’s iconic 1930s cantata “Carmina Burana.” After passing her Canterbury Voices tryout during a special audition session earlier this year, she is finally getting a chance to perform the popular piece, as one of the more than 140 voices who will sing the perennial favorite Saturday.
“The energy of the rehearsals is familiar to me. I love the energy of a good rehearsal. It’s just the learning, it’s different than a string instrument, so it’s really cool for me,” said O’Leary, who is the 911 Communications Manager for the Oklahoma City Police Department. “I’m one of those people that gets goosebumps from music, so I enjoy getting to hear it all come together.”
“Carmina Burana” will bring a big and bombastic finish to Canterbury Voice’s 50th anniversary season.
“It’s a pretty nice history when you think about an independent choir running well and in business for 50 years. It’s pretty amazing,” said Artistic Director Randi Von Ellefson. “It’s a popular piece that’s part of the repertoire, and it’s exciting. … It’s become one of those pieces that everybody knows whether they know it or not.”
A raucous crowd pleaser, “Carmina Burana” is especially known for its opening and closing movement “O Fortuna,” which has been used in hundreds of times in popular culture, from movies like “The Doors” and “Speed” to TV shows like “Wrestlemania” and “Glee.”
“If you play it for people, they go, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve heard that,’” Ellefson said. “It’s fun to sing because it’s very rhythmic. Fun words. Kind of weird words because it came from runaway monks.”
Unlike the masses and requiems that make up much of the classical choral repertoire, Orff based his “Carmina Burana” on a collection of medieval Latin and German secular poems taken from a 13th century manuscript found in a Benedictine abbey near Munich and published in 1847.
“They’re not sacred pieces. These are monks and priests that ran away and wrote about parties and the spring festivals and love – and the whole idea of time as a big wheel. It’s unique, and I think the reason people like to do it is because it’s fun. … It’s exciting from beginning to end,” Ellefson said.
Longtime Canterbury Voices member Margaret Flansburg enjoys the history of the popular piece: She has a master’s degree in Italian Renaissance art history and a doctorate in interdisciplinary 14th-century art. She joined the adult chorus in 2000, after she retired from the University of Central Oklahoma, and this is the third time she has performed “Carmina Burana” with Canterbury, which previously programmed it in 2008 and 2013.
“The audience likes to hear it, and it’s a little bit like the ‘Messiah’: People begin to expect it once in a while,” she said. “They put the translations, which in some cases are a little shocking, often in the text. But that’s not what you hear really when you sing it or listen to it. It’s just thrilling and varied and exciting, with kind of unexpected things coming up all the time.”
Along with Canterbury’s adult chorus, Saturday’s concert will feature a full orchestra from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, plus soloists Nicole Van Every, soprano; Rodney Westbrook, tenor; and André Chiang, baritone.
“You have a baritone who has to sing very dramatically and bold in the low notes but also has to sing his falsetto, and the soprano … has to be very virtuosic,” Ellefson said.
“The third soloist for ‘Carmina,’ it’s a very unique thing. Rodney Westbrook … he sang in Germany and he sang the tenor solo for ‘Carmina,’ I think he told me over 130 times. And it’s a very odd solo because he sings as a swan being roasted on a spit. You hear in the orchestra … the swan’s head being chopped off. And he cries out in very high notes all about ‘I’m a swan, I’m being roasted, I’m turning black.’”
In addition, Canterbury Youth Voices’ 40-member Central Chorale, under the direction of Stephen Ziegler, will sing in two movements, including one in which Ellefson said they will portray street urchins.
Among the youth singers is O’Leary’s daughter Avery, 12, who has been coaching her mother through her choral debut.
“We usually spend part of every evening sitting down, get the score out, work on pronunciation. And it is probably the coolest experience in the world. … She gets to teach me something, and that is just cool,” O’Leary said. “Every day that I go to rehearsal, I think ‘this is really cool.’ This has been such a good learning experience for me. I don’t regret even one bit of it, even the little bit of anxiety at the beginning. I’m so glad. I’ll treasure the experience of getting to perform with her. There will be no opportunity again in my life I can think of that I’ll get to do this.”
Canterbury Voices’ “Carmina Burana”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Tickets and information: 232-7464 or canterburyokc.com.