Review: This ‘Candide’ revival works

This ‘Candide’ revival works

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

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All sorts of talented folks have been involved over the years in the shaping and reshaping of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” based on Voltaire’s 1759 philosophical novel, among them the playwright Lillian Hellman, poet Richard Wilbur, composer/lyricist John Latouche, and librettist Hugh Wheeler.

One of their challenges has been to determine just what it is: a satirically comedic opera, a European-style operetta, an American musical. It seems to be all, and one could add that it contains elements, as well, of the old British music hall show and the American review. Such a mixture is not easy to stage.

A very lively and fruitful version, however, with the elements intact, reached the Musical Arts Center this past weekend in a production adroitly prepared by Indiana University Opera Theater. There’s plenty to look at and listen to, thanks, first, to Bernstein and company and, now, to two solid casts of singers, a terrific chorus and the IU Symphony.

The performers have been guided and inspired by a new-to-us visiting stage director and choreographer, Candace Evans, who’s put her creative stamp on a concept and its realization; Kevin Noe, the always welcome conductor visiting us again, on this occasion revealing the worth and often brilliance of Bernstein’s music, and the prominent local chorus master Susan Swaney making the large choral contingent sound resonant and involved.

C. David Higgins’ attractive proscenium-within-a-proscenium set, previously used, abets the swift shifting of scenes so that the action never needs to stop. Todd Hensley’s lighting design helps to set the ever-changing mood of the story.

That story follows the earth-encompassing life journey of the title character, taught to believe, “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” as taught in the novel and opera by his tutor, Dr. Pangloss, and in real life by Age of Enlightenment German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz, whom Voltaire voraciously lampoons in his novel.

Throughout, the low-born Candide wants to marry the high-born Cunegonde, but unbelievable, often absurd, misadventures continue to get in his way. Characters are seen to die and come back to life. Disasters befall the hapless hero and those around him. He comes to realize that “Life is neither good nor bad. Life is life and all we know.” Somehow, he and Cunegonde reunite, content, in their future, to “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Conductor Noe’s control of music and musicians results in fidelity to score and excitement. Evans’ dramatic efforts, too, prove faithful and original. She kept the story historical and yet made it also feel thematically current. Satire and rue, the brash and the reflective, the fantastic and the real were all in ample evidence and neatly blended. Unfortunately, on Friday more so than Saturday, but both nights, the amplification did not always serve the extensive dialogue well, becoming muddy or insufficient, hindering impact. It made one yearn for supertitles, which the musical numbers had but the dialogue didn’t.

As staged at the MAC, Voltaire becomes a character who is writing his story. He sometimes assumes other roles, such as the optimist Pangloss and the pessimist Martin. The assignment was aced by baritone Sean McCarther on Friday and Joseph Mace on Saturday. Both revealed flexibility in the constant switchovers and, as Voltaire, made one think they were that biting observer of a troubled world.

Michael Porter and Will Perkins made satisfying use of their lyric tenor instrument as the hapless, often victimized Candide. Musically, they mastered the high tessitura of the role and, theatrically, they gave the character a personality worth worrying over. As his sought-after Cunegonde, Shannon Love and Katelyn Lee not only got through “Glitter and Be Gay,” the very operatic and dazzlingly difficult, show-stopping coloratura aria, but commanded it.

Baritones Brayton Arvin and Joseph Legaspi shared the role of Maximilian, Cunegonde’s brother; they comically emphasized his vanity and thoughtlessness. Sopranos Audrey Escots and Kellie Cullinan added noticeable portrayals of the sexy/saucy family maid Paquette. The Old Lady, who leads and misleads Cunegonde through her own trials, became three dimensional and fun to follow as re-created by mezzos Laura Thoreson and Ashley Stone. Tackling another multi-character assignment as Grand Inquisitor and Brazilian Governor, a villainous Dutchman and more were tenors Andrew Morstein and Corey Bonar; they sang with gusto and acted with unbridled flair.

The weekend’s audiences laughed and cheered this “Candide” revival; it works.


Copyright: 2012

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