‘Carmina Burana’: Three Companies Collaborate at the Granada

Symphony, State Street Ballet, and Choral Society Perform Orff

<b>SPECTACULAR THEATER:</b> This weekend’s <i>Carmina Burana</i> is a full-scale production, with a huge orchestra, a 100-voice-strong chorus, and a dozen trained dancers (Christine Sawyer pictured) performing an original full-length ballet.
David Bazemore

It’s the most popular classical composition of the 20th century; it’s also one of the most eccentric. Carmina Burana, the “scenic cantata” by Carl Orff that will be presented at the Granada Theatre on Saturday-Sunday, October 17-18, defies categorization even as it goes from triumph to triumph in the spheres of advertising, popular music, and film scoring. Relentless excerpting and recontextualizing has seen Orff’s work, and in particular the big opening number, “O fortuna imperatrix mundi,” turn up in such unlikely places as raps by P. Diddy and Nas, and even as the opening sequence of Jackass: The Movie.

What’s happening at the Granada, however, represents a turn in the other direction, away from fragmenting the piece and toward rendering it whole. This weekend’s production is nothing less than a full-scale Carmina Burana as its composer intended it, with a huge orchestra, multiple vocal soloists, a 100-voice-strong chorus, and a dozen trained dancers performing an original full-length ballet. To pull off this spectacular feat of theatrical production, four organizations have come together. Through pooling resources, the Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, the Santa Barbara Choral Society, and the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts have met every challenge faced by such an unusual and ambitious event.

To give an idea of just how complicated this show is logistically, consider this: The orchestra will perform for the first half of the concert onstage as they ordinarily do, and then during intermission, they will move into the pit for Carmina so that risers can be installed to accommodate the Santa Barbara Choral Society and the rest of the stage can be left open for the dancers of the State Street Ballet to perform William Soleau’s choreography. And that has to happen in half an hour or less. Thanks to the sophisticated lift installed when the theater was remodeled, the Granada is one of the only theaters in the country where this kind of scene change is even possible.

The Granada is more than just an excellent venue for this massive coproduction; through the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts, which is the Granada’s associated producing organization, Chrisman Executive Director Craig Springer and his staff provided crucial administrative support for the project. For example, as a result of an unusual fundraising arrangement in which the ballet, orchestra, and chorus pooled their resources and coordinated their efforts, the costs of this expensive event were covered before a single ticket was sold. “You have to find what the community is ready and willing to do,” said Springer, who cited the collaborative aspect of the project as a clear incentive for donors.

David Pratt, executive director of the Santa Barbara Symphony, agreed. “This is what’s happening in the arts more generally right now,” he said. “Sharing resources sends a great message to the community, and this Carmina exemplifies that. From that point of view, it’s already a success.” Pratt took the job here after this opening concert was already programmed, but he sounds genuinely delighted with the choice, saying, “It’s a great way to open a season. When Nir [Kabaretti, maestro and artistic director] told me the first concert would include Carmina Burana, that fit perfectly with my approach, which is that you have to open and close a season with something big.”

It doesn’t get much bigger than this, with the Granada’s seats expected to be as full as the stage and orchestra pit. Sunday afternoon is already sold-out, and Saturday will go the same way well before curtain up. For the dancers of State Street Ballet, this is the culmination of an extraordinary 20th anniversary season that has shown the city’s top professional touring company to be a sought-after attraction in theaters all over the world. At an open rehearsal on Wednesday night in their studios on Las Positas Road, the mood was as exuberant as Soleau’s dazzling, athletic choreography. State Street Ballet will be at the center of attention when the curtain rises on this big event, and the company is more than ready for its close-up.

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Carmina Burana is at the Granada on Saturday, October 17, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 18, at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, visit granadasb.org or call (805) 899-2222.

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