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Vocalists turn in exceptional effort in Carmina Burana at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

May 3, 2014

from the Post Crescent's James Chaudoir

“O Fortuna!”

As these opening words rang out through the performance space at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton, the stage was awash with a wide variety of instrumentalists and singers of all ages.

The audience was waiting in great anticipation for the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra’s rendering of Carl Orff’s magnum opus, Carmina Burana.

The first half of the concert featured a multimedia exploration of Carmina Burana, its history and Orff’s compositional process. This musical adventure was presented by noted commentator Tony Garton and featured students from Houdini Elementary School, who, through the guidance of their music teacher, Vicki DePasse, performed original works created with the use of Orff’s musical instruments, while embracing his principles of music education.

The second half of the concert was a performance of Carmina Burana in its entirety.

The vocal portion of the score was sung by Appleton’s own newVoices, directed by Phillip Swan, members of the Capriccio Choir of the Lawrence Academy of Music, directed by Jaclyn Kottman, and a very talented trio of soloists, soprano Alisa Suzanne Jordheim, tenor Steven Paul Spears and baritone Chad Sloan.

From the opening downbeat to the powerful concluding measures of the piece, music director Brian Groner had absolute control, and all eyes were watching each and every gesture of his baton. His tempos were crisp, and when the opportunity presented itself, he exercised great flexibility and freedom with tempo. This was particularly noted in the orchestral dance that opened the “On the Green” section.

In the final analysis, the strength of the evening’s performance was with the exceptional quality of the vocal soloists. These are the movements that provide the threads that neatly bind the work into a whole.

Though the tenor soloist only sings once, it is, however, one of the focal points of the piece. Spears’ interpretation of the famous “roasted swan” aria was riveting, and made all the more exciting with his entry from the back of the hall and moving closer to stage with each verse. Filled with angst and an overabundance of high notes, Spears dramatized the moment with vocal dexterity and polish.

Sloan sang the most diverse role among the soloists; a task he accomplished with confidence, and a bit of humor and dramatic interest. Highlights of his performance include his impeccable diction and fluid upper range in the sprightly “Estuans interius” solo from the “In The Tavern” section, as well as demonstrating how freely he shifted from falsetto to full voice in the dramatic and lovely “Dies, nox et omnia” from the “Court of Love” section.

Once again, it was a joy to hear Jordheim return to the PAC stage, and more importantly, to hear the growth and maturity of her developing voice. This role was perfectly suited for Jordheim as she graced each vocal moment with style and precision. Her rendition of the lullaby movement “In trutina” was lovely beyond words, and her sense of pitch and accuracy in the extremely high, and delicate “Dulcissime” movement were astounding.

It was a wonderful evening of music, closing another dramatic and musically entertaining season by the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra.

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