More than 100 singers will perform Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” on Friday, Sept. 16, at Popejoy Hall at the University of New Mexico.
New Mexico Symphonic Chorus director Roger Melone first performed the piece in San Antonio, Texas, in 1967.
“In that short time, it has become practically a cult piece,” he said. “It sells out concerts. Young people – kids – want recordings of it.
“It’s rhythmically contagious,” he added. “It becomes hypnotic.”
“The Doors” movie used it to convey the torment of Jim Morrison’s drug addiction. It has shown up in TV shows ranging from “The Simpsons” to “How I Met Your Mother.”
Written in 1935 and 1936, Orff’s masterpiece was based on 24 poems from a medieval collection. The text covers a range of topics as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st – the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of spring and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.
At Popejoy, the singers will be joined by soloists Amy Owens, soprano; Hugh Russell, a Canadian baritone; and tenor Sam Shepperson. Owens is an award-winning former Santa Fe Opera apprentice who completed a two-year residency with Utah Opera.
Russell is known as the go-to baritone for “Carmina Burana,” Melone said.
“When they can, they all get Hugh Russell in New York, Chicago and Houston,” among others, he said. “We did it with him in Vail.”
Shepperson is the co-director of UNM’s Opera Theatre.
“The tenor solo is one of the most unusual things in all literature,” Melone said. “It’s written way too high because it’s supposed to sound like a bird roasting on a spit. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually funny.”
The cantata’s difficulty lies in its overabundance of words, Melone continued.
“There’s medieval Latin, medieval German and medieval French,” he said. “It’s a lot of words to spit out rhythmically. It’s one of the most unusual pieces I know.