The Cleveland Orchestra began its farewell to Miami for the season Thursday night with Carl Orff’s hugely popular Carmina Burana at the Arsht Center.
The performance of Orff’s setting of medieval texts about fate, springtime, food, gambling and love, was a mixed one. There was excellent work by the soloists and chorus, yet a strangely underpowered account of the famous “O Fortuna” chorus.
Under conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus sounded rich, resonant and balanced in the opening, with whipcrack precision and effectiveness by brass and percussion. Yet the performance seemed too centered on dynamic contrasts, playing very loud or very soft, without much forward motion. Quiet sections plodded, lacking the insistent urgency and sense of latent power they should have.
Baritone Stephen Powell sang with force, an assured tone and lots of character, inhabiting hi solos as if he were on the opera stage. He brought sulfurous anger to his first solo in the Tavern section and a bilious pomposity, complete with staggering and a well-timed hiccup, to the song of the Abbot of Cockaigne.
Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo was the voice of a swan being roasted on a spit, giving an intense, if a bit constricted, performance, possibly because he was trying to sound faintly birdlike.
Soprano Nadine Sierra brought a glossy voice and expressive intensity to her solo opportunities. The Fort Lauderdale native’s career is starting to take off, with her Metropolitan Opera debut in Rigoletto scheduled for next season.
The chorus, an outstanding, all-volunteer ensemble, sang with lusty power, although occasionally it could have brought off the work more effectively with a bit less refinement and more bawdiness. Joining the ensemble for this work was the Miami Children’s Chorus, singing with precision, spirit and accurate intonation under director Timothy A. Sharp.
The concert opened with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a setting of texts from the Hebrew Bible, an affirmative, optimistic work despite some turbulent moments. Guerrero led a buoyant opening, with the clanking percussion and American-style harmonies that give a touch of West Side Story to this setting of religious texts.
The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, directed by Robert Porco, did an excellent job. Although numbering more than 120 and filling four tiers of seats behind the orchestra, they sang with great clarity and incisiveness, tempered by a rounded, glowing warmth. In the final section, ascending figures in male and female voices cascaded over each other in a radiant crescendo.
Costanzo sang in this work also, rising from within the orchestra to intone the words of the 23rd Psalm. He sang with great purity of tone and phrasing in this hopeful melody of faith, which is often sung by a boy soprano. Yet on high notes he let his voice bloom into a full vibrato that seemed too plush and operatic after the ethereal, unaffected tone of the preceding melody.
The orchestra got a rare chance to emerge from its role as choral backup band in a dark and ominous interlude for strings in the third section, playing with refined power.
For complete coverage of classical music, go to SouthFloridaClassicalReview.com