BAR HARBOR — After the sturm und drang of last year’s powerful “Elijah,” the Mount Desert Summer Chorale decided to have some fun this time, with “Carmina Burana,” Carl Orff’s angry, funny, bawdy, at times tipsy and ultimately joyful paean to fortune, misfortune and love.
Director David Schildkret explains in his program notes that the songs contained in this stirring cantata were largely written by itinerant medieval monks, known as gollards, who would perform the clever, often irreverent, satirical pieces on the streets and in the palaces of ancient Europe.
As the chorus filed onto the risers at St. Saviour’s on Saturday night, it seemed a bit smaller than usual with some strong, familiar voices absent. So, I couldn’t help wondering if these 45 or so singers could produce the kind of powerful sound “Carmina Burana” demands.
Well, that question was answered in the first two words of the piece, “O Fortuna!” With the help of some booming timpani and crashing cymbals, it lifted the audience members off their pews for a few seconds.
Then, it settled into the litany of discontent of the second verse, a scary but compelling journey through life’s woes in the 13th century — which, come to think of it, are not all that different (minus the plague) from today’s woes.
Especially impressive from the start were the sopranos. Much is demanded of this group in terms of range and power and these choristers delivered and then some.
But each of the vocal ranges — the fluty altos, the soaring tenors, the rich baritones and thrumming basses — were marvelously represented here. That’s a good thing as this is primarily a choral piece, with the three soloists providing some exquisite interludes along the way.
First of these soloists was baritone Nathan De’Shon Myers. Small of stature, Myers packs a mighty sound that easily filled the church and, when he was singing about love, made us all a bit swoony. Later, Myers entertained us royally with a leering, though tuneful, rant about his lust and desires and, later still, as the drunken Abbot whining tipsily about his misfortune.
Tenor Eric Flyte truly provided the comic relief as he wandered out of the chorus, looking rather lost and bewildered, then sang in a gorgeous lyric tenor the song of the roasting swan.
“Now I lie on my plate and can no longer fly. I see bared teeth. Misery me…”
We had to wait until the final act of the program to hear soprano Kyla McCarrel sing, but boy, was she worth the wait.
Her sweet, crystal-clear voice was simply spine tingling, making not only the baritone fall in love with her but also the whole church full of people.
Schildkret did a fun thing here, countering this lovely vocal interlude with a gossipy, chattering background chorus that was reminiscent of the “Pick a Little, Talk a Little” number from “The Music Man.”
But when the baritone steps in to declare his love and the soprano decides that virtue is not all it’s cracked up to be, we are all turned into peeping Toms as the two, well, get it on. One almost expected the church’s stained glass windows to be steamed up at the end of their duet.
The cantata ends as it began with the rousing chorus, timpani, and cymbals, but now they are all in a much better mood — and no wonder! Instead of complaining about fickle fortune they are celebrating Venus, Helen of Troy and Blanchflour (another legendary lover).
Accompanying all these vocal shenanigans were two excellent pianists, Colin Graebert and Clayton W. Smith. At times the two worked in the perfect harmony of some 1930’s Disney cartoon featuring bluebirds, and at others they seemed to be duking it out like the score of a martial arts film.
The percussion crew of Cynthia Brooks Bastide, John Mehrmann and Michael Venti, in addition to all the timpani and cymbal sounds, also brought clattering, rustling, and tinkling to the mix.
It was another great performance by the Summer Chorale and when we left the church, the night air no longer seemed hot and humid. It felt positively sultry.