Albuquerque tenor Sam Shepperson has sung his share of operatic roles but he’s been making a name for himself as a soloist in Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”
Shepperson will reprise the part in the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus’ May 4 performance of the famous cantata at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
“Over the last few years it has definitely become my speciality,” he said. “I do it at least once or twice a year, sometimes more.”
The tenor solo, which lasts about six minutes, is the swan being roasted on a spit.
“It’s so high. I go into a different place in my voice that I found a few years ago. It’s a squawking kind of thing,” said Shepperson, who is co-artistic director of the University of New Mexico’s Opera Theatre.
Roger Melone, the Symphonic Chorus’ music director, said the solo is supposed to sound like an animal dying.
“Sam sort of half sings it and half acts it,” Melone said. “You have to see him as well as hear him do it.”
He said he had conducted Shepperson in “Carmina Burana” with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and ever since then Shepperson is the only singer he’s wanted in the tenor role.
The solo comes in the cantata section called “In the Tavern.” The tenor sings “Once I lived on lakes/Once I looked beautiful/When I was a swan./Misery me!/Now black and roasting fiercely.”
The two other soloists in the May 4 performance are baritone Stephen Lewis and soprano René Dierking. Both are members of the Symphonic Chorus.
There will be about 100 voices in all in the concert.
The Albuquerque Bel Canto Choir will join the Symphonic Chorus. The Bel Canto is an element of the Albuquerque Youth Symphony’s choir program.
Most of the 49 musicians in the accompanying orchestra are members of the New Mexico Philharmonic, Melone said.
The Frankfurt Opera premiered Orff’s piece in 1937 and it has since become one of the most popular 20th century works in classical music and in popular culture.
“What makes it such a big hit? It is so visceral, so rhythmic, so primitive, so hypnotic. And those things come together in the right way,” Melone said.
“Carmina Burana” is based on a collection of medieval secular poems. Its most well-known music is probably “O Fortuna,” which is part of the opening and closing movements.
“Carmina Burana” is one third of a musical trilogy. Last season the Symphonic Chorus performed “Catulli Carmina,” another part of the trilogy.