OPERA NEWS - Carmina Burana & Atlàntida
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Carmina Burana & Atlàntida

Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos & The New York Philharmonic, Orfeón Pamplonés

On May 31, the New York Philharmonic paired the choral chestnut Carmina Burana by Carl Orff with excerpts from a rarely heard scenic cantata by Manuel de Falla from the same era (c. 1935). Conductor Raphael Frühbeck de Burgos shared the honors for this splendid concert with Orfeón Pamplonés, a Spanish chorus founded in 1865 and making its Philharmonic debut with these appearances.

Falla's Atlàntida, setting a text by the Catalan priest and poet Jacint Verdaguer, was left unfinished upon the composer's death in 1946 and went through two major revisions, along with a stint on the opera stage in 1962 at La Scala, by Falla's pupil Ernesto Halffter. The colorful, intriguing work combines spiritual meditations (Christian themes woven with classical mythology) with intensely patriotic lyricism (Christopher Columbus's destiny, bound up with the legendary island of Atlantis), and the chorus is shown to fine effect in the short "Spanish Hymn," the a cappella "Romance" and the tender, fugal conclusion "The Supreme Night." South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo painted the narration in bold, sweeping gestures, and his handsome baritone rode the orchestral waves majestically. Soprano Emalie Savoy (heard recently in The Makropulos Case at the Metropolitan Opera) sang the words of Queen Isabella with warmth and elegant projection.

In contrast to his lush, expansive reading of Atlàntide, Frühbeck de Burgos treated the robust and lusty Carmina Burana elegantly, highlighting contrasts in texture and dynamics and telling a story rather than presenting a pageant. Working from memory, both he and the exemplary chorus brought delicacy to the two large movements "In springtime" and "On the lawn."

Soprano Erin Morley showed a lovely smoky soprano in the "Court of Love" section, especially the low-lying "In trutina" and the cadenza "Dulcissime," with its gently soaring high D, sparkled. In the tour-de-force baritone role, Imbrailo lacked variety and vocal abandon, although his top notes are well produced. The more raucous numbers, especially "Estuans interius" (a hymn to vice and fleshly pleasures) and "Ego sum abbas" (a drunken rant) sounded tame. Between these two pieces, tenor Nicholas Phan nearly stole the show with his poised, ironic portrayal of the swan roasting on a spit. This treacherously high aria, "Olim lacus colueram," is the only solo tenor moment in the work, and it is often comically overplayed by singers without the notes — or, much worse, sung by a countertenor in pretty tones, ruining Orff's intended effect of vocal strain and discomfort. Phan sang well, while deftly imparting the misery of a cooked bird heading for the blue-plate special. spacer


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