'Carmina Burana' enlivens Lied

You might expect Fat Tuesday to be filled with sex, drinking and gambling.

But you probably wouldn't expect the Mardi Gras revelry to take place on the Lied Center stage, with more than 200 people in tuxedos and black dresses.

That was the case Tuesday night, as the Kansas University Symphonic Choir and Wind Ensemble combined forces to perform Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

Using words in Latin, Middle High German and Old French dating from 1140 to 1275, Orff wrote a visceral, three-part cycle -- parts of which have become part of mainstream culture through movies ranging from "Excalibur" to "Jackass: The Movie."

Audience members who failed to read the program notes might not have realized that "Carmina Burana" isn't your typical foreign-language performance piece.

Consider these translated lyrics: "My virginity makes me frisky/my simplicity holds me back." Or "May God grant, may the gods grant what I have in mind: that I may loose the chains of her virginity."

No wonder many of those on stage were wearing Mardi Gras beads.

In some ways, it would be difficult to gather more than 250 musicians on a stage to perform "Carmina Burana" and not have it be a success. For the most part, the singers seemed to embrace their subject matter, with playful facial expressions seen throughout the stage.

And the piece gave KU a chance to show off some talented soloists. Baritone Stanford Felix, a graduate teaching assistant, was especially strong while singing drunkenly about life at a tavern.

The performance, which lasted about an hour and 15 minutes, had a few moments that lacked direction, as any longer piece might be expected to have. Also, musicians overpowered Genaro Mendez's woeful, soaring tenor solo, and there were occasional intonation problems in the woodwind section.

Hopefully the groups can improve on those aspects as they perform parts of "Carmina Burana" tonight at the Kansas Music Educators Assn. convention in Wichita. A few tweaks would certainly turn Wichita's Century II Convention Center into a New Orleans-style festival, if only for a few minutes.

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