Carmina Burana Rides The Wheel of Good Fortune In Adelaide

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'Carmina Burana' 'Carmina Burana'

This piece was published before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

While Carl Orff’s 'Carmina Burana' might not be a household name outside of operatic circles, its opening chorus ‘O Fortuna’ is firmly entrenched in popular culture.


Athletes like LeBron James took to the court to its refrains, Ozzy Osbourne had it play before he strode on stage, Old Spice used it to sell aftershave, King Arthur rode into battle in 1981’s 'Excalibur' with Orff’s chorus as the soundtrack. Despite its prolific use, though, it never loses its power or popularity. State Opera Of South Australia’s Artistic Director, Stuart Maunder, hopes to show audiences this March that there is much more to the 20th century’s most popular classical work than the opening two and a half minutes.

Last year, in his first year at the helm of State Opera, Stuart Maunder took Bizet’s 'Carmen' to the masses with an outdoor Victoria Square production. He built it and the people came, as he explains.

“I think it was a huge step for the company and a great success and it certainly introduced a lot of new people to the genre which is exactly what we wanted it to do.”

“We wanted to say here we are and we’re interested in engaging with as many people as we can possibly get in this extraordinary art form that we do.”

Having broken the mould of how opera had been operating in South Australia, and with a critically acclaimed 2019 season, Stuart is doing it all again this year, only this time at the historically iconic Memorial Drive.

“We couldn’t get the same space again so we thought let’s mix it up a bit, let’s go somewhere that is iconic to Adelaide audiences. Even though it’s got a new roof, so many people have their anecdotes about when they first went to a concert [at Memorial Drive].”

The mid-1930s German work based on a 13th century Latin poem requires such a large venue, as Stuart explains.

“The point about 'Carmina Burana' is it requires scale. We’ve got a 250-piece chorus, we’ve got a children’s chorus of about 70, the three principals of course, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO). It’s big, it’s on a grand scale, that’s what this art form can do.”

Alongside the chorus and symphony will be a trio of Australian soloists in the prime of their careers.

“Samuel Dale Johnson is currently strutting his stuff in Berlin. He does 'The Barber Of Seville' and 'Don Giovanni' there.”

“Desiree [Frahn] just goes from strength to strength; last year with ['Cunning Little Vixen'], I couldn’t be more delighted with it.”

“Paul McMahon has done more 'Carmina Burana's than you and I’ve had hot dinners and is a very fine performer.”

The ASO will be conducted by one of Australia’s most respected conductors, Benjamin Northey, and Stuart is delighted.

“He’s a great force, a great Australian conductor and the ASO love him so I’m in seventh heaven, what can I say?"

'Carmina Burana' was due to play Memorial Drive Park 27 March but has been suspended as a result of COVID-19.

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