A study in contrasts: Impressions from last weekend

Michael Leopold performing on the theorbo. Photos courtesy of Stephen Winter

My musical experiences last weekend ranged from hearing Early Baroque music played on the theorbo to attending Cincinnati Ballet’s groundbreaking “Carmina Burana” in Music Hall.

On Saturday, I went to North Presbyterian Church in Northside to hear the inaugural concert of the early music ensemble Catacoustic Consort’s new theorbo — a very long-necked lute. The program featured two masters of that instrument: Michael Leopold and David Walker.

Catacoustic Consort’s new theorbo

It was enchanting to hear each artist play music by composers for the instrument, such as Leopold’s performance of Girolamo Kapsperger and Alessandro Piccinini. Leopold gave nuanced performances with impeccable, dazzling technique.

Performing a duo on lute and theorbo

It was interesting to compare his mellow sound with the brighter sound achieved by Walker. (Both own instruments by the same master luthier, Klaus Jacobsen.) One of the highlights, for me, was music by Francois Couperin (including one piece that Walker arranged). For the finale, they played a duo of lute and theorbo, and then many in the crowd went up to inspect the instruments.

The two masters of theorbo, David Walker, left, and Michael Leopold

On Sunday, I snapped up a ticket to Cincinnati Ballet’s final performance of “Serenade” and “Carmina Burana.” Here are a few of my impressions of “Carmina Burana,” a regional premiere choreographed by Nicolo Fonte in collaboration with Ballet West.

Stunning dancing by Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers, with the May Festival Chorus singing above the stage. Photography: Peter Mueller

The audience gasped audibly at the opening scene, with the dancers in nude-colored body suits and 75 members of the May Festival Chorus seated high above the stage wearing monk’s robes.

Although Carmina is part of pop culture now, I’m not sure everyone in the audience knew about these 13th-century poems, sung to music by Carl Orff. It’s an ode to spring with texts in medieval Latin and old German. The poems were probably written by wandering scholars and monks, who sang of earthly pleasures, drinking, eating and lust.

But I was confused about Fonte’s story line of monk-like characters tearing the dancing couples apart…

The dancing was fresh, youthful and exuberant. I loved the electricity and strength of the principal dancers Chisako Oga, Rodrigo Almarales and Cervilio Miguel Amador in numbers such as “Tanz.” And every time Sirui Liu was onstage, she mesmerized. Her pas de deux near the end (“Dulcissime”) with Luca De-Poli — which included a showstopping performance by soprano Alexandra Schoeny — was breathtaking.

Christina LaForgia Morse and Cervilio Miguel Amador; Photography: Peter Mueller

I enjoyed seeing the live chorus and soloists, who also included tenor Marco Panuccio and baritone Christopher Clayton.

I also liked the staging that had the soloists interact with the dancers. Panuccio, singing in a striking falsetto, was marvelous in the role of the roasted swan. If I could have gone again to hear Schoeny sing “In Trutina” once more, I would have. (I wondered, though, why these opera singers had amplification.)

The chorus, which can probably sing this in their sleep, sounded robust and performed with clipped enunciation. From my perch on the side, their texts were oddly muddy – even in my favorite number, “Veni, Veni” and the grandiose hymn, “O Fortuna.”

Under the baton of Carmon DeLeone, the CSO sounded superb in the pit (slightly smaller this time, with one “lift” being used to seat audience members). I was sitting on the left side balcony, and also was pleasantly surprised with the lush string sound in the opening Tchaikovsky “Serenade for Strings.”

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