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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Civic Symphony of Green Bay stellar in ‘Carmina Burana’

The famed choral/orchestral work is performed to a packed house.
Seong-Kyung Graham (Warren Gerds)
Seong-Kyung Graham (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Sunday afternoon, April 6, was a high point (5 stars out of 5) in the 19 years of the Civic Symphony of Green Bay as music director and conductor Seong-Kyung Graham and a large entourage of performers launched into Carl Orff’s famous and fabulous “Carmina Burana.”

The historic Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay was filled, on stage and throughout the house.

At the end, the place was filled some more with the sound of cheers and long applause. The orchestra, sets of choirs and three soloists had turned in robust and marvelous performances. The event was one of achievement. A standing ovation came immediately.

***

The performers: Seong-Kyung Graham, conductor; Civic Symphony of Green Bay of approximately 60 musicians; Stuart Smith, host; Yi-Lan Niu, soprano; John Plier, tenor; Kent Paulsen, baritone; Green Bay Boys and Girls Choir, Randall Meder and Karie Green Green, directors; Ripon College Choral Union, Seong-Kyung Graham, director; St. Norbert College choirs; and Civic Symphony of Green Bay Choir, Kent Paulsen, director.

***

Substantial as the Meyer Theatre stage is, it is too small to fit a full orchestra and more than 100 singers. The children’s choir was placed in the front rows, and the adult choirs sang from the balcony. Much of the audience couldn’t see the adult singers, but everybody could see Seong-Kyung Graham conducting them, and that was A MAJOR BONUS for this event. She became the show.

The audience could virtually read the choral score on her face – the moments of earnest power of the men, the sweet passages, the vigorous sections, the angelic reveries, the joy, the passion, the sheer exuberance. It was all there on her face, just about note by note.

Just in case anybody missed it, Seong-Kyung Graham was transported. She was in a place beyond notes on a page and/or leading performers as a kind of mechanism. She was where composers write music for, a world beyond. This was visible – intangible but there in her expression and flow of conducting the choirs and orchestra. The transformation took place within the first minute as the ringing, exciting “O Fortuna” chorus rose to full glory. (Seong-Kyung Graham spoke earlier this year about what she experiences on the podium. The feature story is at http://www.wearegreenbay.com/1fulltext-news/d/story/critic-at-large/26050/wtB_KzmUlUmcuiT18VFCVg).

The opening moments swiftly established that this was a special performance for the orchestra, which was at its best. Not every note was perfect, but the performance was overwhelmingly full of fire, excitement and excellence. One peak of intensity came from soprano Yi-Lan Niu, who put down her score to all the better send up a rocket of a note that ended her spectacular time on stage. Baritone Kent Paulsen had a rousing good time in his ample satirical/sardonic (and a lot of other things) passages. Tenor John Plier dug into the portrayal in the most bizarre section as the “black and well roasted” swan sings his high-pitched lament.

The event drew such a crowd that there weren’t enough printed programs to go around. That’s a good news/bad news situation. The bad news was everybody couldn’t find out who was who and what was going on. The good news was the performance played to a full house, a goal of any organization.

***

The work

Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World)

1.      “O Fortuna” (chorus)

2.      “Fortune plango vulnera” (chorus)

Primo vere (In Spring)

3.      “Veris leta facies” (small chorus)

4. “Omnia sol temperat” (baritone)

5. “Ecce gratum” (chorus)

Uf dem Anger (In the Meadow)

  6. “Tanz” (orchestra)

  7. “Floret silva nobilis” (chorus)

  8. “Chramer, gip die varwe mir” (soprano and small chorus)

  9. “Reie”:

     “Swaz hie gat umbe” (chorus)

     “Chume, chum, geselle min” (small chorus)

     “Swaz hie gat umbe” reprise (chorus”

  10. “Were diu werlt alle min” (chorus)

II. In Taberna (In the Tavern)

  11. “Estuans interius” (baritone)

  12. “Olim lacus colueram” (tenor and male chorus)

  13. “Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis (baritone and male chorus)

  14. “In taberna quando sumus” (male chorus)

III. Cour d’amours (Court of Love)

  15. “Amor volat undique” (soprano and children’s chorus)

  16. “Dies, nox et omnia” (baritone)

  17. “Stetit puella” (soprano)

  18. “Circa mea pectoral” (baritone, chorus and children’s chorus)

  19. “Si puer cum puellula” (male chorus)

  20. “Veni, veni, venias” (double chorus)

  21. “In trutina mentis dubia” (soprano)

  22. “Tempus est iocundum” (soprano, baritone, chorus and children’s chorus)

  23. “Dulcissime” (soprano)

Blanziflor et Helena (Blancheflour and Helen)

  24. “Ave formosissima” (chorus)

Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi (Fortune, Empress of the World)
  25. “O Fortuna” reprise (choir)

***

Host Stuart Smith set the tone for “Carmina Burana” with his comical and informative opening narrative. He pointed out the text of the work is about “love, lust and the pleasures of drinking.” Listening to the 70-minute, shifting, soaring, unique, amazing masterpiece of musical imagination, all that is lost on modern audiences. The words are buried in plain sight in Latin and old German text, Stuart Smith pointed out. Funny thing about choral works: Some people grumble that they can’t understand the words if the singing is in a foreign language. If they understood the crux of “Carmina Burana,” it would be “WHOA!”

To put the concert in motion, trumpeter Adam Gaines of the orchestra led the 1795 Johann Ernst Altenberg “Concerto for Seven Trumpets and Timpani.” The piece was performed by not seven but 12 trumpeters from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay; Green Bay East, Green Bay West, Pulaski and Ashwaubenon high schools; Notre Dame Academy; and De Pere Middle School. Ta-da da da da, the piece was a fanfare.

THE VENUE: A feast for the eyes, the Robert T. Meyer Theatre opened Feb. 27, 2002. It seats approximately 1,000. The building opened Feb. 14, 1930, as one of the palatial Fox movie houses. The theater’s interior aura was its saving grace toward the end of the 20th century, when the building was faced an uncertain fate. The architectural/decorative style is defined as Spanish Atmospheric. The auditorium is designed in the manner of a Moorish courtyard of old. The eclectic mix of architectural styles and colors carries throughout the lobbies. One of the Meyer Theatre’s remaining architectural cousins around the country is the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan.

THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of Green Bay. The theater took his name at the behest of his wife, Betty (Janet Elizabeth) Rose Meyer, whose financial contribution at a crucial time helped revitalize the building. The Rose family has a history of deep commitment to and involvement in the well being of Green Bay. Robert Meyer died in 1984, Betty Rose Meyer in 2008.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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