The National Chilean Ballet’s interpretation of the Carmina Burana opened with a very still woman clad in golden crown and medieval dress standing on a pedestal: the designated queen for the evening. The curtain lifted on the choir singing in unison “O Fortuna”—it all made for a breathtaking, haunting and thrilling beginning. But for those at the edge of their seat, anticipating what was yet to come, the ballet was not very engaging, although there were some exciting moments.
Photo by Jessica Phelps (click here for more photos)
The performance, a collaboration between the National Chilean Ballet, the Chilean Symphonic Orchestra and the Universidad de Chile Symphonic Choir, was an oratorical ballet interpretation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
Carmina Burana is an 11th and 12th century manuscript made up of 254 poems and texts, most of which were written in Medieval Latin. The manuscript was discovered in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria. Much of the poetry was written by Goliards, a group of wandering students and clerics mainly from medieval France, Germany and England who wrote satirical poetry protesting the hypocrisy within the church and praising women, wine, song and merriment. The subjects tackled in the poems range from songs of morality and mockery, drinking and love, to spiritual theatrical pieces.
Between 1935 and 1936 the German composer Carl Orff turned 24 of the poems into musical compositions, also called the Carmina Burana, of which “Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi”— more commonly known as “O Fortuna”— is probably the best-known, being often used in dramatic scenes in films and television. “O Fortuna” both introduces and concludes Orff’s Carmina Burana Trionfi— the musical triptych: Man’s encounter with the awakening of Spring, with the gifts of Nature, and with Love.
It was difficult not to admire and be touched by the music. The orchestra and choir, directed by Michal Nesterowitcz and Francisco Nuñez, performed with expertise and the music throughout the ballet was impressive.
After the motionless queen opened the ballet, a court jester entered with a menacing smile. The king followed, accompanied by two terrifying figures in white. One was a young blond man, perhaps the prince; the other,
an old man with a receding hairline and long white hair. All the characters save the jester and the queen were wearing masks. Although they made for an interesting ensemble on stage, it was the last we saw of the king and his ominous companions. However, the jester— who possibly gave the best performance of the night— was present in every scene, casting a shadow of mockery and general peril.
The scene that followed opened with a woman in a white dress with golden leaves on it and a golden garland on her head, standing in front of a faded hanging tapestry depicting a landscape. Two other women and a young man, presumably her lover, later joined her. It was not clear whether the hot weather— the dancers glow with perspiration— or the choreography was to blame for the contrived, rickety and slow movements of the performers.
Scene three, and the second best performance of the evening, opened on a brothel/pub setting. Drunken men danced with disheveled prostitutes on the table with the young lover amongst them. A fake sleeping dog lay beneath the table. The jester then entered followed by jumping, dancing and general glee.
The scene closed with the baritone singing drunkenly on the table and walking clumsily offstage. Before the scene ended, the heroine from scene two passed through for a brief second and saw her lover on the table with another woman. A reconciliation dance performed by the lovers ended the scene.
The fifth and last piece had the queen high up on her pedestal throne surrounded by her subjects circling to “O Fortuna” at the foot of her throne. The dancers went around in a frenzied circle, staring up at a large, round coronal device hanging from the ceiling, embedded with horoscope symbols representing the sky.
In spite of the theatrics, the performance did not satisfy the audience’s expectations. The strength and music of the opening scene drew and mesmerized the viewers, but the rest of the performance was mostly a disappointing disconnection between the music and the dancing, leaving the audience generally unfulfilled.
Carmina Burana Ballet
Teatro Universidad de Chile