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WENDY ROSE: NSO audience gets off on Orff

The Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra performed the fourth installation of its 2018-19 Masterworks series this past week, ending off with “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Orff,” a night of music by German composer Carl Orff.

Promoted as “pleasure and peril in D minor,” the NSO, accompanied by the Philharmonic Choir of the NSO, the Shallaway Youth Choir, performed Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” divided into three sections, “Springtime,” “In the Tavern,” and “The Court of Love.”

Special guest vocalists Raphaëlle Paquette (soprano), Jean-François Lapointe (baritone) and Newfoundland native Ryan McDonald (countertenor) lent their talents to the spectacular performance.

Dancers from Kittiwake Dance provided breathtaking choreographed dance performances throughout the show, accentuating the aural delight with a visual accompaniment, the dancers adding another level of beauty to this particular production, performing in front of the musicians, while the choir stood in the back and in the flanks of the stage.

After just a few moments, I was thoroughly impressed with this show – that’s my usual sentiment about the NSO. Other words that typically come to mind include “mesmerizing,” “stunning,” “captivating,” “inspiring,” “entrancing,” “transfixing,” and “electrifying” — you get the idea.

The first half of the show featured Orff’s famed “O Fortuna,” which most would recognize from its use in pop culture — films, TV shows, advertisements, samples in other songs, sporting events, and even the Daytona 500.

In the first section, “Primo vere (In Spring),” the theme is well-communicated. This is the soundtrack for frolicking in fields of flowers.

Lapointe was the first guest vocalist to showcase, with Paquette and McDonald to follow as the show progressed.

McDonald’s role as a “counter-tenor” is particularly interesting – “counter-tenor” is a relatively new term, often taking over vocal performances intended for “castrati” singers (think a high male falsetto).

After just a few moments, I was thoroughly impressed with this show – that’s my usual sentiment about the NSO. Other words that typically come to mind include “mesmerizing,” “stunning,” “captivating,” “inspiring,” “entrancing,” “transfixing,” and “electrifying” — you get the idea.

For those unaware of the history of “castrati” singers (like me, before last night) this is a whole new world of weirdness. Buckle up.

In an act of barbaric cruelty blessed by the Church, male singers who were deemed beautiful singers were castrated before reaching puberty to preserve their high voices.

I learned of this bizarre historical anecdote after the show had ended, thankfully, as I needed the liberty to yell several expletives as I processed this information.

These days, castrati parts are assigned to counter-tenors like McDonald, or female mezzo-sopranos.

Throughout the show, the percussion section was exceptionally awesome, with a special shout out to the young man playing the cymbals, putting them aside quietly with expertly caution between uses.

“Expert” is a word that can describe every one of the 175 people on stage at the Arts and Culture Centre on March 22 — the dancers, musicians, singers, guest vocalists, and conductor Marc David are all experts in their fields.

St. John’s is very “Fortuna” to have so many amazing artists working tirelessly, together and separately, to come together for a one-night-only show.

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