As fate would have it, Sacramento has a wealth of “Carmina Burana” this spring.
Both the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra will present major productions of this popular work just seven weeks apart – at the same venue. With one interpretation stressing dance, the other singing, these two very different takes on the same piece will be presented at the Sacramento Community Center Theater.
Perhaps it’s only fitting. Both groups hope to get lucky at the box office with the same music, inspired by the fickleness of fortune.
“It’s just a very powerful piece of music, very dramatic,” said choreographer Ron Cunningham, the ballet company’s co-artistic director. “It’s been used in so many movies. People think they don’t know it, but they do.”
“The music is so visceral,” SCSO director Donald Kendrick said. “It’s physically exciting. It’s all about Lady Luck and gambling and the pleasures of life. ... The opening chords are so familiar. Everybody in the world has heard them.”
Listeners may not be familiar with German composer Carl Orff, who debuted “Carmina Burana” in 1937. But the first four chords of “O Fortuna” – the thunderous opening of “Carmina Burana” – have been used in countless movies, TV shows and commercials, from “Excalibur” to an Old Spice spot.
Arts organizations in the same community usually try not to duplicate productions in the same calendar year, but this isn’t the first time Sacramento Ballet and SCSO faced off over “Carmina.”
“It’s happened before,” noted Cunningham. “We both did it in the same season (in 2003) and it went OK. We have different audiences. It shouldn’t affect either audience. It’s wonderful for Sacramento that we’re both doing this work. It will be two different experiences; one will be about dance, the other about choral music.”
Kendrick is not so sure it’s a win-win situation.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed that they would do this just seven weeks before we do our production,” Kendrick said. “I would never do that to someone else. We’re not a big city (with a lot of potential patrons).”
For the ballet, “Carmina” was a late substitution to its 2013-14 schedule. Originally, “The Great Gatsby” was planned for this week’s dates.
“A bunch of things happened,” said Cunningham, noting problems with missing scenery and last-minute emergencies for cast members. “To do ‘Gatsby’ right, we decided to wait until next year. ‘Carmina’ sounded like a perfect swap-out. Our ticket holders love it and it’s one of our most popular ballets.”
Ballet subscribers were notified Feb. 20 of the change and offered credit or refunds if they preferred not to see “Carmina.” Almost all kept their tickets, according to Cunningham.
That switch did not please leaders of the choral, which had its “Carmina” scheduled since April 2013.
“Some of our patrons expressed surprise and some concern about the ballet’s last-minute switch to ‘Carmina’ – offered in the very same theater – seven weeks in front of our May 17 ‘Carmina’ performance that we had planned a year ago,” said SCSO President Jim McCormick. “Some believe that it will cause confusion for some patrons who might attend the ballet’s March performances and then not return for a second helping of ‘Carmina’ at our performance.”
It can be confusing for the box office, too, McCormick noted. Patrons need to specify which “Carmina” they want to see.
“When an arts group decides at the last moment to change its repertoire mid-season for whatever reason, it is vital that they scan the arts environment to see the impact they could be having on other arts groups,” he said.
The two sides eventually realized they should cross-promote their “Carminas.”
“There’s quite a lot of solidarity now,” McCormick said. “We’re going to make lemonade together (out of lemons). The arts are actually getting along.”
Both productions promise to be spectacular and personal. As his libretto, Orff used 24 medieval poems that were discovered at a Benedictine monastery in Beuern in Germany’s Bavaria. (“Carmina Burana” means “Songs of Beuern.”) Linked by the wheel of fortune, the songs are divided into evocative sections: “In the Spring,” “In the Tavern” and “The Court of Love.”
As performers, Cunningham previously danced “Carmina;” Kendrick sang it. As directors, both feel their “Carmina” is as Orff intended.
“It’s a popular choral piece, but it was written to be a dance cantata,” said Cunningham, who will be directing his fifth Sacramento Ballet production of “Carmina.”
Countered Kendrick, “When Carl Orff wrote this work, he intended it to be a scenic cantata – a choral piece – with a large, large chorus and full orchestra. That’s how we present it, as it was originally meant to be, as Orff envisioned it in its original Germanic Latin pronunciation. It’s not easy vocally, but we use that language color.”
There’s some overlap in their interpretations. The ballet will use 33 dancers accompanied by about 80 singers and a pit orchestra. Under Kendrick’s director, the choral will use 270 singers – its full chorus plus the Sacramento Children’s Chorus and Sacramento State’s University Chorus – accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra and guest dancers.
“It’s the most asked-for ballet we’ve ever done,” Cunningham said. “Audiences always want more.”
That’s what the choral society hopes, too.
Said Kendrick, “Our performance has got everything from the bottom of the ice cream cone to the maraschino cherry on top. We love doing ‘Carmina.’ The choral society will sing its socks off. We’re hoping people will hear our version.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.