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CSO works it well with ‘Carmina Burana’

Music Director Riccardo Muti acknowledged audience after he conducted Chicago Symphony Orchestr'CarminBurana' Friday evening during annual free concert Millennium Park.

Music Director Riccardo Muti, acknowledged the audience after he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in "Carmina Burana" Friday evening during the annual free concert at Millennium Park. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Media

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free ‘concert for chicago’

At Millennium Park, Friday only

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:46AM

Note: Hours after this performance, Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians declared a strike, forcing the cancellation of Saturday’s scheduled concert. See and for details.

A free one-time outdoor concert of “Carmina Burana” with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Riccardo Muti might conjure up an image of a huge crowd with dicey musical results.

The opposite obtained early Friday evening when what was technically the last night of summer was one of the few rainy ones of that season. In 2010, Muti launched his first season as CSO music director with a Millennium Park concert that drew 25,000 people. The uncooperative heavens kept this year’s numbers to about 7,000 with many in ponchos and even tents on the lawn.

However, musical results were much greater than those at Orchestra Hall in the same work earlier this year. A new set of soloists included two — Italian soprano Rosa Feola and Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen — who were marked improvements over the subscription concert guests.

But it was the tremendous warmth and focused comfort of the orchestra and a chorus that was on fire this time around that set this performance apart. Whether because of increased familiarity and experience with Muti’s combination of passion and analysis with this piece or in anticipation of taking the work and forces to New York to open the Carnegie Hall season the first week of October, this was a fully engaged presentation of the controversial hourlong work inspired by secular poems from a medieval Bavarian monastery.

Feola had an attractive sound from her first entrance, but as the evening went on she became increasingly seductive and even delicate. Iversen displayed confidence across the wide range called for In his parts. Florentine countertenor Antonio Giovannini faced the same challenges that his January predecessor did: the voice category just does not offer the needed strain — and slight perversity? — of a high natural tenor singing these dark lyrics.

Duain Wolfe’s chorus, almost somnolent in the indoor dates, here had the rhythmic energy and control, a care with words, and an attractive sound across all sections. Members of the Chicago Children’s Choir, standouts last time around, here were much more equally matched. The CSO, from principal Mathieu Dufour’s haunting flute solos to the delicacy of the tiny orchestra-only “round dance” to the many full-throttle passages that never became vulgar, gave a commited performance perhaps better than the 1937 Nazi-era German piece deserves.

Muti, who has made clear how dear “Carmina” is to him, came as close as he ever has to demonstrating that this is a work of power and pessimism rather than banal celebration. The only time that he seemed to be even more engaged during the program was when he was vigorously conducting the opener, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).

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