On many occasions I am grateful for the astonishing good fortune to live in Sarasota, but none more so than when I was brought to tears of joy witnessing the “Queen of the Air” and international circus legend Dolly Jacobs flying near the peak of the big top to the luscious music of Ennio Morricone performed by live orchestra and chorus. What could be more uniquely Sarasotan than a celebration of the musical arts and circus arts together?
A roar of applause and cheers is due to impresarios Joe Caulkins of Key Chorale and Pedro Reis of Circus Sarasota for creating this wonderful experience to share with us. This was not simply a concert taking place in a tent with some circus acts in front of the orchestra and chorus. Rather, we saw the Maestro transformed to Ringmaster and programmed music which perfectly meshed with the nature of each circus act.
Caulkins, delivering his lines with classic circus inflection, either had good coaching or is a natural who seemed to relish this new role. From the first set up featuring clowns Chuck Sidlow and Karen Bell fishing for “O For-TUNA” segueing into Carl Orff’s memorable opening to “Carmina Burana,” to the driving force of Karl Jenkins’ “Dies Irae,” perfectly portraying the Moroccan Connection’s acrobatic muscle in the music, this was a neatly blended new art form.
To be sure, there were times when the act truly did distract from the music, as with the Rolla Bolla act by Axel Perez where bursts of applause and the rapt attention required to enjoy this balancing act, allowed us to largely ignore the musical challenges the chorus was hurdling in Eric Whitacre’s engaging “Little Man in a Hurry.”
The program included several works where the chorus and orchestra did not have to share the spotlight and in these the Key Chorale acquitted itself well. Perhaps it was the acoustics of the tent that made it difficult to follow the sung text in Charles Ives’ “Circus Band” and in most of the pieces, but the general sound, blend and pitch of the ensemble made for an enjoyable experience. OF course, the musicians of the orchestra and accompanying pianists Judy Richey, Genevieve Beauchamp, and Nancy Yost Olson were superb as well.
The Sarasota Young Voices were featured in a number of the selections and they excelled in their own spotlight with the atmospheric music of Karl Jenkins’ “The Snow of Yesterday,” even outshining Allesandro Wallenda’s juggling act with their charming way in “La Lluvia” by Stephen Hatfield.
If the aerial beauty of Dolly Jacobs made us cry, then the jaw-dropping contortions of Ricardo Sosa paired with Karl Jenkins’ deeply moving “Pie Jesu” left us speechless. If you had to miss one of these two performances this year, then buy your tickets well in advance for what we hope will be an annual event of this remarkable new partnership.