Duo shines in production of Carmina Burana

Review: Dan Kempson and Caitlyn Lynch's vocals soar in the Syracuse Opera performance.
Even if you have not heard of Carmina Burana, you have almost certainly heard it, or at least some of its parts. “O Fortuna,” the opening and closing tune, is one of the most widely used pieces of music and has appeared in numerous television shows, movies, and theatrical trailers (such as this trailer for “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut”). 

On Friday night, I watched Syracuse Opera perform Carmina Burana in its entirety. Carmina Burana is not technically an opera; it is a “scenic cantata” based on 24 poems selected from a larger collection discovered at a Bavarian monastery in the 1800s rather than a linear plot. The lyrics reflect emotions of greed and hunger, lust and love, joy and anger. “O Fortuna,” representing fate and how the wheel of fortune can instantly alter emotions, serves as the glue holding everything together.

 Opening the show was one of three choirs, streaming down both aisles wearing white monk robes with hoods pulled up so their faces weren’t visible. Each was carrying a candle. When the chorus reached the front, “O Fortuna” reached its pinnacle, and I have to admit I got goosebumps. 

 The show then dipped into what was the low point for me: the chorus singing while various images were projected onto a large screen. The biggest disappointment was the decision to show images of a dancer instead of choosing to use a ballerina--especially when a ballerina came on in another segment.

 I must add that the ballerina, Morgan Drake, and her male counterpart, Nick Ziobro, were lovely, especially given that they are both Fayetteville-Manlius High School students. 

 A bigger obstacle than age, though, was the sudden replacement of baritone Craig Verm with Dan Kempson. With just a few hours of rehearsal, Kempson pieced together the stage work so well I couldn’t imagine any other baritone in his place.

Additionally, Kempson’s voice may have been one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. Early on, with lyrics of springtime and youth, his voice possessed a timbre that reminded me of a dazzling steel-framed skyscraper, strong and refined. Toward the end, in my favorite part, as Kempson sings a plea to soprano Caitlin Lynch to “loosen her chastity,” his timbre grew broader, more masculine.

In response, Lynch captured femininity perfectly through her ethereal appearance and soaring legato. Her timbre brought to mind Disney’s Snow White, and I could picture birds flying onstage and landing on her fingers.

Together, Lynch and Kempson brought life to the staging that otherwise dragged. Had I listened to the performance on the radio, I probably would have liked it equally as much. Most of the onstage chorus moved little, and the projected images continued throughout the performance--including a particularly odd section where various famous faces appeared. I tried to draw a connection between the selected celebrities but couldn’t, either because they weren’t shown long enough or the links were too weak.

The piccolo chorus, which remained partly obscured when onstage, was functional enough for the performance, albeit not of a professional caliber. Occasionally the Syracuse Opera Children’s Chorus appeared in the show. These elementary school kids accomplished something I could never do as a child: sing well, in a foreign language, while standing relatively still. Even this tricky third requirement was maintained for the duration of their appearance.

The beautiful singing by all members of the show was definitely the highlight of my evening. While I think I would have rather spent my time at a more engagingly staged production, I can say with certainty that I could listen to Kempson and Lynch vow eternal love to one another two dozen more times and still not tire of it.

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