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I have just got back from seeing this programme and I have come to the conclusion that the scariest three words in ballet remain 'specially commissioned score' seconded by 'imaginative new interpretation'.

 

I will write a fuller review tomorrow of this really odd double bill. It is a really good workout for the men in the company, the girls get their chance next week with Sylvia. All the dancers gave both works their all with fully committed performances but I cannot say that I was that entranced by the evening.

 

I think I will sleep on this now and see what perculates tomorrow. However, I will gave a rave review to Will Bracewell as the first seminarian. I couldn't take my eyes off him.

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I am sure you will be very taken with Brandon Lawrence's physique. Impressive is too small a word!

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I shall be writing a proper review - or rather two (one each for The King Dances and Carmina Burana) in due course - but I was in the audience yesterday for a very special celebration of the 25th anniversary of the move to Birmingham and the 20th of Davd Bintley's appointment as artistic  director.  I really must mention the opening and closing tributes  

 

Here are some extracts from a longer article that I have published elsewhere:
 

"The evening began with an unfamiliar overture which we learned was Prospero's theme. It is part of a new score by Sally Beamish for The Tempest and it had never been performed in public before. The curtain rose with Robert Parker standing by a lectern. "I wish I could say that that fanfare was for me" said Parker who flies aeroplanes as well as being artistic director of Elmhurst but it was for another. A photo of Bintley flashed on screen to thunderous applause. For the next few minutes Parker summarized Bintley's life and career with pictures of scenes from his ballets. The summary ended with a photo of the great man in Aston Villa's colours. Birmingham is where he has made his home and brought up his children, explained Parker, and it is where where he supports one of the city's great football teams.

There was a pause of a minute or so before the curtain rose on The King Dances and to say that that performance was special is an understatement.  It was one of the most enthralling spectacles I have ever experienced in the theatre. As I said above I will save the details of the review for another day but I don't think I have ever experienced anything more chilling than the images of hell conjured up in The Third Watch or anything more dazzling than the sight of William Bracewell glimmering in gold before the rising sun. 
 

The evening continued with Carmina Burana and the company danced their hearts out. Although Bintley has made his home in Birmingham he comes from Honley which is almost the next village to mine. I long suspected that he had been influenced by the Choral. I actually asked about the artistic influences when I attended a talk by him last month. Carmina Burana confirmed my surmise for much of the glory of that ballet comes from the soaring voices to Orff's score.

After the curtain fell the crowd went wild. The applause was deafening. They yelled. They cheered.  They whooped. They clapped till their palms were sore. Several in the audience, including me, felt compelled to rise.  There was the usual reverence with its succession of curtain calls for the principals and then Michael Clarke, chair of the company's directors, walked on stage. He gestured to us to stop clapping. "That applause wasn't bad" he said "but the next round will be thunderous for I have found David Bintley," He beckoned Bintley onto the stage and the crowd erupted even louder than before. Bintley joined hands with the conductor and dancers and the applause exploded like a cannonade. Clarke told us that Peter Wright was in the audience. It was a very special moment.

 

In order to attend yesterday's performance I had to leave Northern Ballet's Tell Tale Steps event early. I missed the choreographic sharing which I suspected would be, (and Gita, my colleague on Team Terpsichore, confirmed) was, the best part of the day. I particularly wanted to see works by Tindall and Vigier. Earlier in the day there had been an interesting conversation on narrative dance by a panel that included Christopher Hampson, Mary Brennan and Louise Levene which was supposed to be opened to the floor though sadly only Gita and I managed to get a word in edgeways. I was really torn but yesterday's celentation in Birmingham was very special and I would not have missed that for the world.

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I feel a bit bad that I am not that big a fan of Carmina Burana and I was not that bowled over by the King Dances.  Having seen Terpsichore's review above and spending some time last night with a great friend who used to dance with SWRB who was utterly full of praise for the matinee he had seen I suppose I must just take the view that I may well be out of step but I can only record what I felt.

 

David Bintley undoubtedly has great flair for production.  The designs for his ballets are usually terrific and Peter Mumford's lighting coped with the now usual black costumes against a black backdrop and his work was a great addition to both pieces on the double bill.  I didn't see the first cast of William Bracewell and Iain Mackay but was pleased to see young Lewis Turner have a chance to shine and Tyrone Singleton can do absolutely no wrong in my eyes.  Where things fell down for me was the specially commissioned score, which was both lacking in memorable tunes and any real sense of danceability.  Here again I may well be well out on my own as the young lady sitting next to me was raving about the score.  However, in my defence she was raving about it as a piece of music, rather than a suitable accompaniment for dance.  

 

It bodes very well for the strength of the company that they were able to field at least 8 strong, tall male dances and chief amongst the four torch bearers who were featured later in the ballet were Mathias Dingman and Brandon Lawrence who are both well up there on the list of the company's assets.  What I would question is how much actual choreography they were all given to do.  The stylised nature of the piece meant that any idea of a conventional pas de deux for Le Roi and La Luna (Yvette Knight) was not going to happen but there were some beautiful shapes created.

 

I am afraid I slightly got the giggles when two of the characters in the nightmare scene had wigs which reminded me of the home made pasts I had seen on Masterchief the night before.  This was added to when the final scene had a background which made me think of half of Madonna's conical bra and the final coup de theatre was spoiled for me as Lewis Turner in his Le Roi Soleil outfit came down to the front of the stage but he was masked by one of the courtiers who were standing either side but further down stage.  Given that I was in the front row and not that far off centre this really rather annoyed me.

 

So, for me - theatre spectacle 10 points, actual choreography 6 points, score 2 points.  Having said that the piece was very well received and I had the impression that the cast were relishing performing it.  As I said earlier, this programme gives a real chance for the men in the company to perform their hearts out, and so they did.

 

A lot of what was said above can be repeated about Carmina Burana.  I was there at the premier 20 years ago and have never been that big a fan of the piece, however popular it remains with audiences.  My mother said that at least if the dancing is not for you there is always the huge compensation of listening to the soloists, who were as excellent as you would expect.

 

I have seen some very good individual performances over the years, top of which has to be the great Robert Parker as Boiling Rage.  I was sorry to miss Mathias Dingman in this role as I am sure he will have given it absolutely everything he has.  Joe Caley was too light weight and miscast for me.  The last time I saw the work Fortuna was Celine Gittens with Tyrone Singleton as the third seminarian.  On that occasion the two of them pretty much redeemed the whole piece for me.  This time we had Samara Downs and Brandon Lawrence, both artists I admire tremendously.  However, on this occasion the same magic was not quite there.  My friend also said that the physical god that is Brandon Lawrence is so overpowering in his undress that no one could imagine a priest actually looking like that.  

 

As a number of us have pointed out frequently on this site, Brandon is definitely one to watch and I really hope that the coming season will give him a great number of opportunities to shine.  That William Bracewell is undoubtedly one of the stars of the company has been reinforced by this programme.  As I said in my earlier posting, he was the best first seminarian I have seen over the past 20 years.  Apparently his appearance as Le Roi Soleil was absolutely staggering.  We are lucky to have him but this is definitely being recognised by the company.  I do hope he is Beliaev as he will bring a great deal to the role.

 

There is one last point I would like to make.  The company fielded two casts for this bill and I am sure that there were equal delights in both of them.  However, had the casting been available sooner I might well have tried to see both of them.  When I realised which one I was missing it was too late to get a decent ticket for the other.  I suppose that undeniable popularity of Carmina meant that the company did not miss my additional financial contribution as it all sold well.  I still feel that there is no real justification for denying loyal followers of the company the chance to make an informed choice when booking.

 

All in all there was much to admire and appreciate in this programme but I came away feeling slightly disgrutled rather than on a high.  If I am alone in this I am genuinely pleased that lots of other people really enjoyed what they saw.  I am looking forward to next season when we are promised some more varied choreography.  At least I know we have the dancers to deliver it.

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I'm intrigued by the new piece - sounds good. As a Northerner/Mancunian I still regret my city's decision not to encounter/facilitate/consider a merger of the then SWRB with NDT/NBT. Had always rather liked the sound of The Royal Northern Ballet. Still good on Birmingham for delivering the goods over three decades.

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I agree Vanartus. Had Birmingham not stepped up to the plate and invited SWRB to move that company would have ceased to exist within very few years as all the arts funding was cut back. The City's commitment to the company has remained in spite of everything and we have been the lucky recipients. With all the gripes about the variety of some if the repertoire (guilty) the company does have its very own, distinct identity, a quality it shares with NBT.

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I'm intrigued by the new piece - sounds good. As a Northerner/Mancunian I still regret my city's decision not to encounter/facilitate/consider a merger of the then SWRB with NDT/NBT. Had always rather liked the sound of The Royal Northern Ballet. Still good on Birmingham for delivering the goods over three decades.

 

Well it's lucky that Calderdale offered NB a place in Halifax as that company would have undoubtedly folded as Manchester funding was being withdrawn.  And thanks too to Leeds for offering them a home there when the need arose.

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I am sure you will be very taken with Brandon Lawrence's physique. Impressive is too small a word!

 

I was indeed! Mr Lawrence is an outstanding dancer - hope he gets promoted as he only a First Artist currently. It was such a treat to see him in company class when BRB came to Nottingham last month - he really puts the work in. He is charming in his tweet replies as well! 

 

I loved both the ballets yesterday. The King Dances is a spectacular spectacle; the costume designs were wonderful and I love that Louis IV long hair for the men! 

 

Yesterday was the first time I've seen the Bintley Carmina and I thought it was fabulous. The singing of the Ex Cathedra Choir was just perfection. I sang this piece in a choir many years ago, I adore the piece.

 

I came out on a real high and my only annoyance is not booking to see more performances. Would have loved to see the other cast. BRB is by far my favourite company at the moment but I agree with the comment by two pigeons above - I wish they would announce casting sooner. Mind you BRB are fielding so many strong dancers right now....

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Well it's lucky that Calderdale offered NB a place in Halifax as that company would have undoubtedly folded as Manchester funding was being withdrawn.  And thanks too to Leeds for offering them a home there when the need arose.

 

I agree with JanetMcNulty that it was fortunate that Northern Ballet found a home in Halifax for a while and that it later found a more permanent home in Leeds. Its location is very convenient for me and I make the most of it.

 

Having said that I also agree with Vanartus that it is sad that there is no world  class ballet company in North West England, especially now that Manchester city region has recently overtaken the West Midlands as the most populous metro region after London (see Population surge means that we are even Greater Manchester 2 July 2013). If one adds the Liverpool city region then North West England has a considerably larger population.than the West Midlands, West Yorkshire and Greater Glasgow.

 

There was talk of an £80 million refurbishment of the Palace and the Royal Opera House spending half the year there before the financial crisis (see para 12 of Wikipedia's entry on the Royal Ballet) but that was dropped by the Coalition government.  Perhaps the initiative can be reconsidered with the £78 million investment in The Factory Arts Centre (see Manchester to get new £78 million theatre named The Factory 3 Dec 2014) which the Chancellor promised in his Autumn statement.

 

Also, there are many other things we can do to rebuild ballet in North West England such as supporting the Northern Ballet School and its performing company the Manchester City Ballet.

 

Nevertheless, distances between major population centres in this country are not big. I reached Birmingham from Leeds in less than 2 hours yesterday.   I often trot down to London and back in a day for something special.

 

My only regret is that three good things were happening yesterday - Northern Ballet's sharing, English National Ballet's Choreographics at Sadler;s Wells and the 25th anniversary show at the Hippodrome -. and I had to choose between them.  I wish the ballet companies would speak to each other to avoid such clashes.

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I saw three performances of The King Dances/Carmina Burana last week and enjoyed them all!

 

I loved The King Dances from the moment the curtain rose on 8 courtiers encircling 8 free-standing torches.  I thought the work was a visual and aural feast.  I felt the movements of the courtiers were much enhanced by the swirling of the skirts of their frock coats.  The set is basically a black box from which dancers appear and disappear.  The movement was much as I had envisaged it may be given the subject matter - ie a series of courtly gavottes, which gradually showed more virtuoso steps, although never going as far as today's pyrotechnics.  In the second section I loved the duet for the King and the Moon Goddess - the fabulous William Bracewell and the serenely beautiful Yijing Zhang.  Iain Mackay used his enormous stage presence to great effect as Mazaron.  While the set was very dark I thought the lighting was very clever and highlighted the dancers well.  I loved the costumes apart from the Devil's in the third section which looked cheap and tacky compared to the other magnificent costumes - it could have come from a high street fancy dress shop!  The Sun King costume is a rather bright lurex where I would have preferred brocade but I expect brocade may not have given the final effect with the lighting where the Sun King had a kind of after glow as the stage went dark just before the curtain fell.  William Bracewell was magnificent as The King, moving from the teenager led by Mazaron to the King taking control.  He was incredibly regal at the curtain calls!

 

As a friend said you don't have to push it to look beautiful; simple steps provide their own beauty.

 

The alternative cast of Lewis Turner, Tyrone Singleton and Yvette Knight was equally compelling.

 

I've loved Carmina Burana since I saw the premiere just on 20 years ago.  The three performances I saw were tremendous.  The first cast was led by the sublime Celine Gittens with Jamie Bond, Mathias Dingman and Tyrone Singleton as the seminarians, Elisha Willis as Lover Girl and Daria Stanciulescu as the Roast Swan.

 

The alternative cast was led by the magnificent Samara Downs - all too believable as the Empress of the World defeating men!  William Bracewell gave another outstanding performance as the first seminarian, Joe Caley as second and Brandon Lawrence making his debut as 3rd.  Momoko Hirata was a delight as Lover Girl and Yijing Zhang was just gorgeous as Roast Swan.

 

Unlike Two Pigeons I felt that there was a terrific rapport between Samara and Brandon but it was very different from the sheer sensuality of Celine and Tyrone.  You could see that Brandon was totally awestruck by Fortuna but did not understand why or what was happening.  Samara was triumphant in his defeat,  Brandon (of course) danced the role brilliantly but for me there was much more to his performance than that.  You could see him being gradually drawn into Fortuna's web, not quite understanding what was happening but then finally giving in to his sensuality and then his terror at her transformation.

 

For me, this was one of the most exciting performances of Carmina that I can remember seeing.

 

Personally I thought that the two works complemented each other.

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As promised, I have published a full review of The King Dances today elsewhere. Some time today if I can find the time I shall review Carmina Burana which was the other ballet that formed part of the celebration of Bintley's 20 years as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the company's 25 years at the Hippodrome. It was, however, The King Dances for which I drove 120 miles from Leeds and 107 miles more back to Holmfirth last Saturday to see.

 

For me the ballet worked. It was not a reconstruction of Le Ballet de la Nuit though that work could be re-staged if anyone wanted to do it. We know quite a lot about the ballet for it was the topic of the 6th annual Oxford Dance symposium at New College, Oxford in 2004 and quite a lot of books and articles have been written about it.  It would probably not be great box office because the Le Ballet de la Nuit lasted literally all night and Philidor's music would not appeal to modern tastes. I've just been listening to another piece by the same composer on YouTube and I can see why Bintley commissioned Montague to write a modern score. However, The King Dances gave us a very good idea of what Le Ballet de la Nuit must have been like.

 

As in  Le Ballet de la Nuit The King Dances followed the 4 watches or periods of the night and all but one of the roles was danced by men. The main characters were the king danced by William Bracewell and the Night, Devil and Cardinal Mazarin all danced by Ian Mackay. There was no synopsis for this ballet in the programme or cast sheets but this ballet very clearly told a story though I could not work out what it was. Mazarin was Louis XIV's chief minister until his death in 1661. He was heartily disliked by the French partly because of his nationality and partly because of his accumulation of books and works of art but he was at the height of his power in 1653 when Le Ballet de la Nuit and I can't imagine that a satire showing him as receding Night in the first watch or the devil in the third would have been tolerated.  Ironically I had attended a panel discussion on narrative dance in ballet earlier in the day which nearly drove me potty because not one of the panellists explained what he or she meant by "narrative dance" and I didn't get a chance to ask them until the final moments of the discussion an hour or so after the question arose.

 

As I said in my earlier post, the most chilling scene was the third watch or night mare scene where demons, witches, werewolves and finally the prince of darkness himself appear on stage. It was there that I found Montague's score most effective. The devils besported themselves like mischievous monkeys and the music suggested the calls of cackling monkeys. It was quite a relief when the fourth watch and the king accompanies by Honour, Grace, Renown and Valour re-appeared. I appreciated Katrina Lindsay's stage and costume designs - particularly the sight of Bracewell resplendent in gold - and Momford's lighting.

 

I gave up a lot to see that ballet - not just the choreographic sharing at the Stanley and Audrey Burton theatre which was the best part of a very long day of class, chitchat and performances but also English National Ballet's Choreographics in which Sarah Kundi was performing. Hard choices had to be made and it's all a matter of preference and taste but for me the Birmingham Hippodrome was the best place in the universe last Saturday.

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I saw three performances of The King Dances/Carmina Burana last week and enjoyed them all!

 

I loved The King Dances from the moment the curtain rose on 8 courtiers encircling 8 free-standing torches.  I thought the work was a visual and aural feast.  I felt the movements of the courtiers were much enhanced by the swirling of the skirts of their frock coats.  The set is basically a black box from which dancers appear and disappear.  The movement was much as I had envisaged it may be given the subject matter - ie a series of courtly gavottes, which gradually showed more virtuoso steps, although never going as far as today's pyrotechnics.  In the second section I loved the duet for the King and the Moon Goddess - the fabulous William Bracewell and the serenely beautiful Yijing Zhang.  Iain Mackay used his enormous stage presence to great effect as Mazaron.  While the set was very dark I thought the lighting was very clever and highlighted the dancers well.  I loved the costumes apart from the Devil's in the third section which looked cheap and tacky compared to the other magnificent costumes - it could have come from a high street fancy dress shop!  The Sun King costume is a rather bright lurex where I would have preferred brocade but I expect brocade may not have given the final effect with the lighting where the Sun King had a kind of after glow as the stage went dark just before the curtain fell.  William Bracewell was magnificent as The King, moving from the teenager led by Mazaron to the King taking control.  He was incredibly regal at the curtain calls!

 

As a friend said you don't have to push it to look beautiful; simple steps provide their own beauty.

 

The alternative cast of Lewis Turner, Tyrone Singleton and Yvette Knight was equally compelling.

 

I've loved Carmina Burana since I saw the premiere just on 20 years ago.  The three performances I saw were tremendous.  The first cast was led by the sublime Celine Gittens with Jamie Bond, Mathias Dingman and Tyrone Singleton as the seminarians, Elisha Willis as Lover Girl and Daria Stanciulescu as the Roast Swan.

 

The alternative cast was led by the magnificent Samara Downs - all too believable as the Empress of the World defeating men!  William Bracewell gave another outstanding performance as the first seminarian, Joe Caley as second and Brandon Lawrence making his debut as 3rd.  Momoko Hirata was a delight as Lover Girl and Yijing Zhang was just gorgeous as Roast Swan.

 

Unlike Two Pigeons I felt that there was a terrific rapport between Samara and Brandon but it was very different from the sheer sensuality of Celine and Tyrone.  You could see that Brandon was totally awestruck by Fortuna but did not understand why or what was happening.  Samara was triumphant in his defeat,  Brandon (of course) danced the role brilliantly but for me there was much more to his performance than that.  You could see him being gradually drawn into Fortuna's web, not quite understanding what was happening but then finally giving in to his sensuality and then his terror at her transformation.

 

For me, this was one of the most exciting performances of Carmina that I can remember seeing.

 

Personally I thought that the two works complemented each other.

Thanks Janet - good reading and great to hear about the second casts. I'm not so sure of King Dances as a piece that will endure, but it's certainly good looking. Carmina has endured and always does it for me - wallopingly good fun!

 

All that said I wish Bintley would give himself fewer main-stage commissions and allow others to create significant work on the company. For the avoidance of doubt I'm talking about significant choreographers rather than developing ones (if the commissioning of Whitley and Holder was appreciated).

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Hear hear Bruce!

 

It seems to me that there is now such a gap between Bintley's early work, Tombeau and Galanteries for the RB and Allegri Diversi for BRB being good examples where the choreography speaks for itself and his more recent work which seems to be far more about production values.

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Hear hear Bruce!

 

It seems to me that there is now such a gap between Bintley's early work, Tombeau and Galanteries for the RB and Allegri Diversi for BRB being good examples where the choreography speaks for itself and his more recent work which seems to be far more about production values.

 

I think Bintley can still do the business, and I don't object (big time) to investing in, and thinking about productions in the round - which is where many choreographers seem to be these days. I still think of e=mc2 as new, if it is now nearly 6 years old, and it really showed Bintley as on the beat. Its been a while but I trust that the relationship with composer Matthew Hindson will deliver more success. All up I still see Bintley as a world class choreographer and my concern is that the company ought to have more creative eyes working with them and the audience would get greater diversity as well. Even Balanchine realised that he needed another great creative around at NYCB - Jerome Robbins.

 

The only middle ranking company I can think of where a choreographing director so monopolises new work is John Neumeier at Hamburg Ballet. And while I appreciate Neumeier as well as a choreographer I don't think either company is well served by doing so much by one person.

 

It used to be that BRB could point at Northern Ballet as a place run by a choreographer who did nearly all the new work. That's really changing now as Northern become more adventurous - and with it more interesting. Or more interesting for me anyway!

 

All that said I find myself on a train to Brum to see Bintley's Sylvia!

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I promised a quick review of Carmina Burana which I saw at the Hippodrome on 20 June.


 


T had come to see The King Dances but Carmina Burana was a treat. A multimedia spectacular. A feast as much for the ears as for the eyes. This was the first time I had seen the ballet and how and why I had missed it all those years is a mystery.


 


Carl Orff's score has always been popular, particularly O FortunaBintley translated her into the Empress of the World, a blindfolded woman in black shift on high heels representing blind fortune. She danced alone completely oblivious to human merit and indeed the human condition. On 20 June 2015 she was danced brilliantly by Céline Gittens. I have seen quite a lot of that dancer this year and my admiration for her has grown in every performance. Incidentally, I was delighted to read about her promotion in the company. I offer my congratulations to her and the other dancers who have been promoted to the enormous number that she and they must already have received (see End of Season Announcements 29 June 2015).


 


In the Carmina Burana Orff set to music several secular poems about medieval life. Bintley created what are effectively 6 mini-ballets around each of those poems. O Fortuna was an encounter between lady luck (the Empress Fortuna) and seven seminarians. Spring celebrates the fertility of the earth but also of womankind. It is set in a maternity ward with women who are either about to give birth or who have given birth against a backdrop of drying sheets and nappies with the hapless father or naive body danced by Jamie Bond. The next scene is bucolic with village lads in their colourful jackets and the village lasses in their pony tails competing for the attention of Elisha Willis. The second seminarian, Matthias Dingman (who has also been promoted) in a boiling rage seeks solace in the tavern where he and five gluttons in fat suits are served Daria Stanciulescu in a tureen. Finally, the third seminarian, Tyrone Singleton, returns to Fortuna in the Court of Love where he is stripped to his underpants. One of the most effective and affecting endings to a ballet that I have ever seen.


 


But there are three other stars to this ballet: the designer Philip Prowse who designed the magnificent and spectacular sets and costumes, Philip Mumford for his lighting and the singers of Ex Cathedra. We in Huddersfield like to think that the Choral has a unique sound which you can best appreciate in the Dies Irae of Verdi's Requiem. Birmingham's magnificent choir Ex Cathedra came closer to that sound than any choir I have heard before or since.


 


Carmina Burana is of course 20 years old but to me it was as fresh and vibrant as if it had been created yesterday.


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