Although usually presented as a concert piece, Carl Orff's 1936 "Carmina Burana" was always intended to be theatrical, with some mimed action and "magic tableaux." The first performance in Frankfurt in 1937 was fully staged, in fact, with dancers, sets, and costumes.
The St. Louis Symphony has a long history with Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata" "Carmina Burana," from its first performance back in 1961 with Edouard Van Remoortel on the podium to David Robertson's nicely balanced performance back in May of 2011. There's even a fine 1994 recording with Leonard Slatkin and an all-star lineup of soloists that is apparently still available both in disc form and as an MP3 download from amazon.com.
The St. Louis Symphony brings its season to a close this weekend and next with a pair of concerts featuring big, audience-pleasing works.
So: Take the 40 dancers of the Nashville Ballet; add 120 singers and 60 musicians, including The University of Missouri-St. Louis Orchestra and Singers, The Bach Society of Saint Louis, and The St. Louis Children’s Choir; then set them loose on Carl Orff's 1936 "Carmina Burana" on the Touhill Center's big stage. What you get is an impressive piece of dance theatre that succeeds both as Spectacle and as Art.
If you harbor any lingering doubts as to the St. Louis Symphony’s status as a top-drawer orchestra, you should hie yourself to Powell Hall this weekend. The sheer virtuosity on display in every minute of the world premiere performance of Christopher Rouse’s manic Symphony No. 3 – accurately described as a “wild ride” in David Robertson’s brief introduction – will surely win you over, even if the piece itself does not. The Carmina Burana that followed it was pretty hot stuff as well.