Labels — opera, musical, what-have-you — don’t matter in Bernstein farce

Labels — opera, musical, what-have-you — don’t matter in Bernstein farce

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist
April 1, 2012, last update: 4/3 @ 9:07 am

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“I want you to accept it as magical realism, not a cartoon or farce or even satire. I want you to take a journey, bizarre and unpredictable, as is life.”

So says Candace Evans, very busy at the Musical Arts Center these days as she helps to ready the IU Opera Theater’s production of “Candide,” which opens there on Friday evening.

Evans, a busy and peripatetic director and choreographer, has taken on the task of staging Leonard Bernstein’s setting for Voltaire’s best known novel, “Candide,” a philosophical satire of the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz’s optimistic creed that “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” a tale of misadventures that befall the title character heavily and incessantly as he travels the world in search of his intended bride Cunegonde.

Bernstein employed playwright Lillian Hellman to write the libretto and the distinguished poet Richard Wilbur to supply lyrics. What resulted was a work that’s been labeled opera, operetta and musical theater and has been produced in those various formats. He composed “Candide” for a premiere in 1956 but continued to fuss with it until his death in 1990.

“He was indecisive,” says Evans, “because I think it reflected on his own personality and the way he viewed life. He kept working for the right balance of the comic and serious, the right tone.”

This is Evans’ first “Candide,” she notes, adding, “I didn’t want to be the evil director putting my own, perhaps faulty, imprint on something that should remain true to what Bernstein seems to have wanted as a man and artist so embracing of life.”

Evans’ colleague in this revival — the university’s first since 2001 but the sixth time IU Opera Theater has staged it — is conductor Kevin Noe, a familiar and popular visitor who has led several of the Jacobs School’s orchestras with marked success and also served as music director for the recent revival here of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women.”

“How you label ‘Candide’ doesn’t matter to me,” he says. “It’s a wonderful piece. The music is incredibly American, and Bernstein brought to it what I think was his view of life, a tender sentiment about how things could be versus how they are. He exuded optimism in life and art. It’s in his ‘Candide,’ and I believe we’re capturing the flavors in this production.

“Candace is so good. She’s taught me so much. The task, you know, is to have the viewers care as much about the characters, flawed as they are, at the end as at the beginning. We cared so much for Leonard Bernstein, a genius but also flawed human. We want the audience to feel that way about a great though flawed work of his, and we’ve been working fiendishly to prevent any other sort of reaction.”

Noe says he and Evans have encouraged the singers to bring their individual conceptions to their assigned roles and to be open in rehearsals to “developing a shared and informed vision. It has happened. People are getting closer to their characters. They’ve caught on to what Bernstein, like all great composers, did: provide notes that inflect a character’s feelings at a particular moment. They’ve taken the cues and deepened their portrayals.”

“My mandate,” adds Evans, “was to make this ‘Candide’ a safe journey for the audience, not to confuse them or let them feel that the time spent was not worthwhile. I decided to put Voltaire on stage. He’ll live down off the right side of the stage in a little room and bring the characters to life, as if his book is being created.

“That’s my thread. The life of the writer interacts with the characters, a give and take. His thoughts come to life, and at the end, he closes the book.”

The music for “Candide” contains bits of everything, from the very operatic show aria, “Glitter and Be Gay,” sung by Cunegonde, to the satiric “The Best of All Possible Worlds.”

The overture sounds like Rossini. One hears intricate ensembles, choruses, music hall songs, jazz, folk music, the tango, waltz, gavotte, mazurka and more, a wide range of material for the casts, to be sure. Both Noe and Evans say the singers are doing just fine in assimilating both their musical and theatrical responsibilities.

The sets and costumes are holdovers from the previous run, the work of C. David Higgins, who just retired from the Jacobs School, having left behind as his last new production for IU Opera and Ballet Theaters the just-seen “Sleeping Beauty.”

Reach Peter by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

If you goWhat and Who:IU Opera Theater’s “Candide”

When:8 p.m. Friday and Saturday evening this week and next

Where:Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave.

Tickets: Opening night Friday, general admission, $25 for adults, $12 for students; remaining nights, reserved seating, $15-$37 for adults, $10-$25 for students; see www.music.indiana.edu


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