REVIEW: Contemporary Dance Oklahoma brings music to life in ‘electric’ Carmina Burana; Norman Phil & OMTA Up Next

By Glenda Rice Collins

Norman, Okla., USA — Powered by  a 160-voice chorus, 40 exuberant members of Contemporary Dance Oklahoma, a chamber orchestra with two concert grand pianos, and University of Oklahoma School of Music distinguished faculty soloists:
Lori Ernest, soprano, Joel Burcham, tenor and Leslie Flanagan, bass-baritone, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana spectacular soared to new heights with extraordinary synergy at the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall at OU’s Catlett Music Center April 28. Bravo!!!

UP NEXT, June 1, the Norman Philharmonic presents a concert of “sublime music” by Beethoven and Mozart, in conjunction with the Oklahoma Music Teachers Association (OMTA) State Conference, June 2 – 3, 2023: “Music for Life,” at Catlett Music Center in the OU Arts District. Pre-registration deadline is May 24. Details follow later in this Review.

Carmina Burana: Music, Dance, Vocals & Synergy to Spare

Thursday night’s dress rehearsal, April 27, was so engaging, that this writer returned to see the opening night performance April 28 at the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, in all its glory, which proved to be a powerful tour de force of well-disciplined, “electric” energy!

The mesmerizing OU School of Music production evolved from a collaboration with the OU School of Dance, presented under the baton and direction of maestro Richard Zielinski, — often called “Dr. Z” — director of choral activities, and faculty member at the OU School of Music.

“Friday night’s performance was electric,” Dr. Z said later. “I am so proud of Contemporary Dance Oklahoma… dance brings the music to life! And the audience response was wonderful, from a really diverse audience here.”

Contemporary Dance Oklahoma brought the music to life during the April 28-29 performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, joining with combined choirs, stellar solo voices and top-notch musicians at the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, Catlett Music Center, at the University of Oklahoma. “Friday night was electric!” director/conductor “Dr. Z” said later. Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

From the opening demands of the powerful O Fortuna! music and choral lyrics — “(O Fortune, like the moon, you are changeable… Hateful life, first oppresses and then soothes as fancy takes it…you are malevolent…everyone weep with me!)” –musicians, singers and dancers set a high standard from which to evolve the evocative reflection on life’s often unpredictable pain and pleasures! The vocal soloists further expanded the synergy along with the top-notch musicians and combined choral voices.

“Dance Brings the Music to Life”

OU School of Dance professors Austin Hartel, Leslie Kraus and Roxanne Lyst served as distinguished choreographers for the evocative and musically demanding production, punctuating the series of dances with high drama, fluttering red hand fans, swirling streamers, intricate lifts, and the sustained, wide-open, and highly-elevated solo developpés exhibiting physical strength, discipline and intense drama in the commanding stage presence of all. That rock-solid developpé pose speaks volumes about strength, balance, confidence and capability!

San Antonio sophomore Carli Medina, and Dallas freshman Anthony Glosson
are shown demonstrating a dramatic lift during the Carmina Burana dress rehearsal
April 27 at the University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.
Both talented Texans are members of Contemporary Dance Oklahoma at OU.
Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

OU School of Dance on Stage

Contemporary Dance Oklahoma soloist, Noël Cornelius, a rising OU junior from Houston, Texas,
demonstrates a difficult, sustained, highly-elevated developpé pose, exhibiting command of technique,
strength and stage presence during a recent Carmina Burana dress rehearsal at the Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall
at the University of Oklahoma. “That rock-solid pose speaks volumes.” Brava! Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

Contemporary Dance Oklahoma is a strong, well-trained, disciplined, and technically proficient company of young dancers, fully ready and impressively able to capture the emotional intensity of the Carmina Burana themes with passionate confidence!

Collaborative Vision

Baton well in hand, the production director and conductor, Dr. Zielinski, fits right into the dance scenes with animated flair in the ‘pit.’ “Although I was involved with all forms of athletics (during my youth)…Dance was a big part of the way I grew up…(with the influences of) WWII, big band music, the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and I love to dance!…and I took ballet (lessons) for two years.”

As a musician, Dr. Z says, “I always loved being a percussionist!”

Baton well in hand, as streamers fly on stage, the spirited Carmina Burana production director, maestro Richard Zielinski, presides over the evocative combined choruses, vocal soloists, and musicians as Contemporary Dance Oklahoma members
“bring the music to life” at OU’s Catlett Music Center recently.
Photo by Glenda Rice Collins

Requiring well-disciplined, accomplished and full-range voices to propel and expand the poetic artistry within, Carmina Burana translates from Latin as Songs Of Beuren, referring refers to a collection of early 13th-century songs and poems discovered in Beuren, Germany. Program notes further explain that “The collection of songs was written in a mix of Latin, German and medieval French by the Goliards, a band of poet-musicians comprised of scholars and clerical students who celebrated with earthy humor the joys of the tavern, nature, love, and lust.” The 25 scenes powerfully translate into sections ranging from themes of “The Merry Face of Spring,” and “Burning Inside,” to “Were all the World Mine,” and eventually back to “O Fortuna!” as the program notes detail.

A Memorable Celebration of Life

Some 200 performers participated in the recent Carmina Burana extravaganza at Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, Catlett Music Center at the University of Oklahoma, as partly shown during final dress rehearsal, April 27, 2023. The production is a collaboration of the OU School of Music and OU School of Dance. Photo by Glenda Rice Collins.

“Our presentation of Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff (brought) together over 200 performers,” director Zielinski said. “Singers from area elementary schools, high schools, and OU students, staff, faculty, dancers, soloists, and instrumentalists collaborate(d) with the Norman community, uniting their diverse and collective spirits in a celebration of life.”

Known to champion new music, and for his innovative programming and versatility as both an orchestral and choral conductor, it appears likely that more such collaborations will emanate from Dr. Z’s inspirations in the near future.

Dr. Richard Zielinski, (Dr. Z) Professor,
Director of Choral Activities
School of Music – University of Oklahoma;
Founder, Music and Artistic Director
Norman Philharmonic, Unity Choir and the Zielinski Singers
(Photo provided)

Vision, Diversity & Collaboration

Dr Z, of Polish background, champions diversity and inclusion as well, fully recognizing the capacity for the arts to “bring people and cultural differences together with the unifying capacity of music… the universal language.”

Now serving in his 12th season as the music director and artistic director of the Norman Philharmonic, he has also conducted orchestras, choruses and stage productions throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. His professional vocal ensemble, the Zielinski Singers, has recorded five CDs by many well-known contemporary composers.

The Zielinski Singers, “a group of (talented) friends from across the United States” are preparing for their next tour of Poland soon, where they will present a series of Acappella concerts in areas “near the Baltic Sea.”

Now celebrating his seventeenth year as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Classical Music Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria, Zielinski was the recipient of the Gold Medal of Achievement for his artistic achievements and musical contributions in Eisenstadt. Bravo!


According to its website, “The Norman Philharmonic is an innovative and standard-setting chamber orchestra
performing a variety of music, from classical to jazz to contemporary.”

Founder and artistic director Dr. Richard Zielinski promises “a wonderful program of sublime music” during the next Norman Phil event, in collaboration
with the Oklahoma Music Teachers Association (OMTA), June 1, 2023 in advance of their June 2-3, 2023 State Conference.*

THURSDAY, JUNE 1, 2023 | 7:30 PM:


Program and details are subject to change. For updates and ticket information, please visit:

*For additional details about the OMTA 2023 State Conference,
“Music for Life” June 2 – 3, 2023 in Norman, Oklahoma,
please visit:

Credits: Banner photo by Glenda Rice Collins.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s