In the land described in the book The Hyborian Age by author Robert E. Howard, a Cimmerian boy, born on the battlefield to a blacksmith, arose to conquer, swearing to a deity called Crom. Conan, as he was named, eventually claimed vengeance on the evil sorcerer Thulsa Doom, infiltrating the Temple of Set as the cult indulged in cannibalistic orgy.
Incidentally, just as pulp-fiction writer Howard wove his tale in the 1930s of Conan — later to be portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger on the big screen — Carl Orff, music educator and composer, discovered the medieval sultry poem manuscript Carmina Burana, later to be turned into a 25-song epic masterpiece. Both Conan and Carmina Burana deal with themes of fate, merrymaking, love, warfare, religious worship, and satire. Musically, Orff’s Carmina Burana shares threads of Verdi’s Requiem and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and later in the 1982 film of Conan the Barbarian, film composer Basil Poledouris’s music score shares the epic choir and medieval soundscape inspired by Carmina Burana.
In 2008, State Street Ballet and the S.B. Choral Society premiered Orff’s full-scale masterpiece, choreographed by William Soleau, at the Granada Theatre. The two groups reunited to again present Carmina Burana on that stage on Saturday-Sunday, October 17-18, but this time they were joined by the S.B. Symphony. To depict the 25-song set in its entirety and maintain storytelling unity is a difficult task; each piece must be able to stand alone and yet flow in stagecraft and narrative continuity. This was achieved with the choir as backdrop, dressed in stage-lit multicolors; bench props rearranged for different utilities throughout the work (pillars, platform, benches); the singing soloists dueting with solo dancers in spotlight; and exploiting the theme of the wheel of fate through clockwise choreography.
The production portrayed the lyrics of Carmina Burana. with a literal Conan the Barbarian, medieval flavor that featured hooded monks emanating creepiness, court jesters, priests, frolicking court dancers, football-field-length dance streamers, and, of course, the choir waving Roman-chariot-like celebration ribbons for the “O Fortuna” finale. The photo-finish highlight of the work, however, was a Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa–inspired 12th movement “Olim lacus colueram,” where the beautiful swan glides with melancholy across the stage upon a bench-made-raft platform, to be swarmed, picked, and eaten by a bunch of savages. O fortuna…