Organizing The Spectacle Of Nashville's 'Carmina Burana' | Nashville Public Radio

Organizing The Spectacle Of Nashville's 'Carmina Burana'

May 29, 2019

There's nothing small about Carmina Burana

Carl Orff's epic work has famously added drama to countless movies, commercials and TV shows, but an upcoming revamped production of the work in Nashville will be a bigger feast for the senses than ever before.

It will take 300 performers to pull of this production of Carmina, says Steve Brosvik, COO of the Nashville Symphony. In addition to the Symphony, those performers include the full Symphony Chorus, the Blair Children's Choir, three vocal soloists, and the Nashville Ballet. 

So, logistically speaking, how do you fit that many performers and an audience into a performance space?

"We're using the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in a way that we never have before," says Brosvik. "We're actually removing seats from the main floor in the seating area... and really creating a new orchestra pit in front of the stage." With Nashville Ballet taking the main stage, the Symphony Chorus in the loft behind the stage, the Blair Children's Choir in the audience, and soloists placed strategically throughout the hall, audiences can expect to have a true 360 degree experience. 

It’s not just about the scale of the project, but also about what’s in it. This year’s Carmina will feature brand new choreography from Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling and a brand new film made just for this production by filmmaker Duncan Copp. But when most modern performances of Carmina stick to just the music, why add so many visual elements? Turns out, it’s what Carl Orff wanted all along.

"Orff actually meant originally for the piece to be danced," points out Brosvik. "So we're really just moving along and enhancing Carl Orff's orginal intentions of the work."

Orff wrote Carmina after he stumbled across and was inspired by a collection of medieval poems. They concerned issues that are as relevant today, like the fickle nature of fate, the joy of springtime, love, and the pleasures and perils of some of life’s more questionable activities: drinking, gambling and lust.

The circular wheel of fate serves as a thematic through-line in Carmina Burana.
Credit Tim Broekema / Photo courtesy of the Nashville Symphony

But since the text is largely in Latin, some of the themes can get lost on an audience. Brosvik says this is where the visuals really serve the work.

"The poetry is fairly bawdy. Some of it's pessimistic, some of it's glorious, some of it is really hopeful. Paul Vasterling's choreography is extraordinary and it really explores those themes. And it really allows you to sit back take it all in in a visual way that really helps guide you. And [Ducan Copp's] film enhances that."

With so many elements and moving parts, there Brosvik admits there were a few concerns early in the process that it would all just be too much. But he says audience previews in February were met enthusiastically, and also provided the opportunity to fine-tune and balance all the production's moving parts.

"There will be moments when the most important thing happening is in the pit with the orchestra," Brosvik explains. "There's some really extraordinary pristine moments for the singers... and then likewise with the dance. There are some visually stunning moments that you absolutely do not want to miss. And that's where the audience's attention will naturally go. So now we're perfectly comfortable with it and we're just excited to see it happen and get the audience's reaction."

And Brosvik explains that there's another perk for undertaking such a collaborate project: "If you're not a dance fan... and you're coming to the performance because it's Carmina Burana, I'll hope you'll go away and you'll attend the ballet. If you are a fan of the ballet and you don't normally come to the orchestra, I want you to come back and hear the orchestra in our natural state on the stage, etc. It will really be an introduction to say 'come back and see what else we can do.'"

Leave it to some medieval monks and a 20th century composer to help spread the world about Nashville's vibrant arts community.