When Opera Philadelphia tackles German composer Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ in concert with Margaret Bonds’ ‘Credo’ on Feb. 3 and 5 at the Academy of Music, the opera company’s gorgeous singing Chorus will become this show’s centerpiece, the eye of a marvelous hurricane.
This is especially true in consideration of composer Bonds’ stately, spiritual ‘Credo’ and its featuring of text from Black educational avatar W.E.B. Du Bois.
Certainly, there are soloists for the nights of ‘Carmina Burana + Credo’ with guest conductor Lina González-Granados such as soprano Brandie Sutton, tenor Alasdair Kent and baritone Ethan Vincent. But you’re going to want to focus on the chorus for this one.
Elizabeth Braden, Opera Philly’s Chorus Master, and several of the singers from the Opera Philadelphia Chorus—Ellen Peters, Frank Mitchell and Jessica Murphy—have tied together classical vocal works in concert in the past. What makes the ‘Carmina Burana + Credo’ event spectacular is the company’s vision toward pairing classics with more modern composers, female composers and composers of color.
“We were looking for that level of relevance, as well as a shared forcefulness,” said Braden. “Carmina Burana and Credo both have a big chorus and big orchestration.”
What having a big chorus mean to its performers is quite a different animal than what it means to audiences.
Along with her time in with Opera Philadelphia’s chorus, Ellen Peters (alto) has sung ‘Carmina Burana’ with other area chorales, and can say, from experience, that “the magnificent sound of so many voices singing together in a beautiful hall” such as the Academy of Music is an experience not to be missed.
“You have almost 80 professional singers on this stage for this show. That should be awesome.”
Chorus member Jessica Murphy (soprano) called the showcase and its vocal prowess “exhilarating, the amount of sound produced is incredible – and we haven’t even approached our fortes and fortissimos yet.”
Longtime bass-baritone Opera Philadelphia chorus member Frank Mitchell – along with discussing the “spectacular melding of enthralling voices” that is ‘Carmina Burana’ – focused on Bonds’ ‘Credo’, a brilliant jazzy sound often heard in tandem with author Langston Hughes, only now focused on a more insistent musicality and the subtext of religious and social justice in accordance with Du Bois’ prose.
Mitchell would know. Langston Hughes was his Godfather, and Hughes went to the same university, Lincoln, with Mitchell’s father.
“Hughes’ poetry was tremendous. Margaret Bonds composed many contemporary African-American spirituals, and she was on the cutting edge of helping young African-American pianists and those wanting to learn music. Her music for ‘Credo’ is epic.”
As for the capabilities of chorusters stepping out for solo work, Mitchell noted that so many chorus singers are renowned soloists. And that many of these same powerful vocal artists can be self-centered.
“When they don’t get the opportunity to do solos, they sit back and talk about other singers – which is not true at Opera Philadelphia. We are all soloists in our own right and all respect each other. We’re honestly like family here.”