Carmina Burana + Credo (Opera Philly): A dilettante at large review

Baritone Ethan Vincent in Carmina Burana + Credo at Opera Philadelphia. Photo by Dominic M. Mercier.

The Dilettante at Large is at large again, writing about the culture as an enjoyer rather than an expert. Her latest pleasure was Opera Philly’s Carmina Burana+Credo playing to a jam-packed, wildly enthusiastic audience at the Academy of Music. 

It’s an odd pairing of pieces; Credo is a W.E.B. Du Bois prose poem set to music by Margaret Bonds. Rarely performed, Black History Month made it an opportune moment to present this short choral work.  It is DuBois’ declaration of Christian faith in God and humanity but especially of pride in the “Negro Race.”  Like the Nicene Creed,  it is written in short stanzas, each beginning with “I believe.”  Acknowledging “this turbulent earth” the piece is both anti-war (“armies and navies are at bottom tinsel and braggadocio”) and a call to “Patience.” It is a didactic work about the “mad chastening of sorrow.”  It is sung in English.

On the opposite side of the human experience, Carmina Burana is  mostly about the vagaries of fate and fortune; it’s about joy, about springtime, about drunkenness and sex, about impatience. It, too, is based on poems, these written by medieval monks. Unlike the musically somber Credo, Carmina Burana is full of playful tunes, frisky beats and big POW  punctuations by the percussion section. It is sung mostly in Latin, with surtitles, but don’t count on finding narrative coherence; the music carries it, not the words.

And what music! Lina Gonzalez-Granados is making her debut as conductor. Under her baton are Opera Philadelphia’s orchestra and chorus, 83 musicians and 71 singers plus the 23 singers from the Philadelphia Boys Choir and Chorale. They fill the stage wall to wall, spilling into the boxes, edging close to the three outstanding soloists. It is a huge presence.

With the scheduled tenor out sick, Joseph Tancredi from Curtis Institute stepped in at the last minute to do a heroic job. Brandie Sutton provided a gorgeous soprano voice and, most spectacular, baritone Ethan Vincent whose powerful voice—and ability to actually act the role—was thrilling.

[Opera Philadelphia at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street] February 3-4, 2023;

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