'Carmina Burana' combines artistic talents

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

March 21, 2019

The cast of "Carmina Burana" in rehearsal for Skylight Music Theatre's production in collaboration with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, Danceworks and Chant Claire Chamber Choir. "Carmina Burana" runs through March 31 at Skylight Music Theatre's Cabot Theatre in Milwaukee.
Submitted photo

MILWAUKEE - Carl Orff, a German musical composer whose works combine music, dance and lyrics, is best known for his “Carmina Burana,” published in 1937. It is an ambitious work, which attempts to convey the joys, sorrows and challenges of the human life cycle. And though written in Latin and based on medieval poems, it dramatizes the eternal and universal truths of our existence as mere mortals.

The set is relatively uncluttered with a large moon dominating the multi-leveled stage where vocalists and dancers move about in a constant rhythm.  The small orchestra with two pianos and several percussive instruments are visible but not spotlighted upstage.

The hour-long production is rich with excellent vocalists from the Milwaukee Opera Company and the Chant Clair Chamber Choir and skilled dancers who belong to the Danceworks Performance Company.

Occasionally a word appears upon the moon, giving us a clue as to what is being enacted. The emotions inherent in the music and the movement of the dancers convey the message.

There are scenes depicting fate and our lack of control over our own lives, the changing seasons, birth and death, love and loss, ways of escaping pain, joys and sorrows.

The precision of the music and the skill and grace of the dancers are both impressive. Intellectually and aesthetically, the whole production is executed beautifully. Director Jill Anna Ponasik with her talented assistants - Lisa Schlenker as scenic designer, Jason Fassl as lighting designer,  Dani Kuepper as choreographer and Benjamin Bedroske as musical conductor - all contributed to this unusual experience.

The scenes that I enjoyed the most included the picnic as spring finally arrives, the gifts bestowed upon the expectant mother, the beginnings of love, powerfully depicted by dancer Christal Wagner and tenor Tim Rebers, and the loneliness duo of Jason Martin and Emanuel Camacho so movingly performed.

The drunkenness scene was effective, too, especially the song “Once I Swam in Lakes” by Nathan Wesselowski and dancer Zachary Schorsch. The ache of the loss of youth and beauty is well dramatized.

At A Glance

“Carmina Burana”

The play runs through March 31 at the Skylight Music Theatre, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee.
Call 414-291-7800 or visit