Carmina Burana, Carl Orff
‘O Fortuna’ – there is hardly a more recognisable and bombastic opening to a choral piece of music. With this emblematic line, the world-famous cantata Carmina Burana by the German composer Carl Orff takes the listener on a marvellous journey through despair and optimism, merriness and piousness, joyful drive and sanguine powerlessness. A composer with a keen sense for theatricality, Orff crafted Carmina Burana’s melodies and orchestration in ways that imbue each note with emotional meaning and action. The fantastic cantata shines in its full glory on the stage of Complesso Monumentale Donnaregina in Naples with a creative arrangement for two pianos, a percussion ensemble, a full choir and soloists. Conductor Pier Giorgio Dionisi’s steady hand directs the innovative performance of a true classic.
Carl Orff found his inspiration for Carmina Burana, part of his Trionfi trilogy, from a collection of medieval poetry by Johann Andreas Schmeller. The composer created the libretto from 24 of Schmeller’s poems. The texts addressed timeless topics such as the joys and dangers of indulging in life’s pleasures, the love of spring and awakening of new life, the brevity of human existence, and the passing of fortune, fame and wealth. Around these themes, Orff built a score that shows a wide range of influences, from the old Baroque masters to his contemporary Igor Stravinsky. The pulsating and often changing rhythms of Carmina Burana and the vocal acrobatics the composer demanded of his soloists leave an indelible impression on the listener’s ear.
Carmina Burana had its premiere on 8 June 1937 at the Oper Frankfurt, and the performance reflected Orff’s concept of combining music, costumes and stage sets, and acting into a monolithic, multisensorial performance art. The so-defined scenic cantata quickly won the hearts of audiences in Germany and abroad. To date, Carmina Burana is Orff’s magnum opus, with which none of his other works can compete. The unique performance at Naples’s Complesso Monumentale Donnaregina puts the spotlight on the work’s fantastic music and offers a fresh revival of the renowned original.