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Bernstein's Candide--Seeing Past the Candy-coated Best of All Possible Worlds

Perhaps this review isn't without prejudice, because the Dresser has always adored Leonard Bernstein's Candide, a music theater piece cum opera. She first saw it at Washington, DC's Arena Stage in 1996 before the libretto was significantly revised in 1999 by John Caird for the Royal National Theatre. What she loved about it then and now is the energetic music and the clever words which are often funny, endearingly nonsensical, and wise. So, seeing Washington National Opera and Director Francesca Zambello's production of Candide (are you ready, Dear Reader, for how many minds made this work?) with Book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler in a new version by John Caird, lyrics by (poet) Richard Wilbur with additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and Leonard Bernstein on May 18, 2018, was bliss. In this time of post truth where the moral compass of America has been demagnetized, this story of a young man's journey through hell and back is restorative.

Soprano Emily Pogorelc (Cunegonde) and Tenor Alek Shrader (Candide) in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPGCandide is the story of boy unclaimed by his parents but living comfortably with a wealthy titled family of Westphalia until he expresses his desire to marry the daughter Cunegonde and then is kicked out. Voltaire (as a character in the opera) narrates Candide's life which has been largely influenced by Dr. Pangloss whose extreme philosophy of optimism seems to carry the boy's spirit through the worst possible encounters with war, the Inquisition, poverty, disease, famine, and treachery. When he wanders into El Dorado, Candide realizes he can't stay in this Utopian place because he is incomplete without his beloved Cunegonde. Eventually, he finds her, is shocked by what she has become, and admits he has been a fool. However, he has matured and asks her to marry him and settle into a pastoral life where they can make their garden grow.
Soprano Emily Pogorelc (Cunegonde), Mezzo-Soprano Denyce Graves (The Old Lady) and Tenor Alek Shrader (Candide) in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPG
Maestro Nicole Paiement's enthusiastic conducting sparked the Dresser's latent ambition to lead a symphony orchestra. Perhaps Paiement's initial energy was driven by Bernstein's joyful overture which begins with what sounds like circus music. Zambello's cast pleased in all regards--tenor Alek Shrader as the naïve and earnest Candide, coloratura soprano Emily Pogoreic as Candide's beloved Cunegonde, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves as The Old Lady (the wise and witty attendant to Cunegonde), and baritone Wynn Harmon doubling as Voltaire and professor Dr. Pangloss. A stand out minor character was bass-baritone Matthew Scollin as the street sweeper Martin.

The sets by James Noone and costume designs by Jennifer Moeller in combination with the movement of cast and chorus make for a lively moving story. One particularly notable scene is of El Dorado where the inhabitants carry large fans as if they were show girls at the Brazilian Carnevale.
Tenors Alek Shrader (Candide) and Frederick Ballentine (Cacambo) visit Eldorado in WNO's production of Candide_credit Scott Suchman.JPG
Annik Adey-Babinski's poem "Squalor" creates the impossible landscape of Dr. Pangloss' "best of all possible worlds," which is squalid and sugar-coated. However, Candide is a life lesson in how to survive. While the Dresser would be tempted to grimace, put up her hands, and shout, "ooo, no. I won't have this," the constant Panglossian philosophy lessons in combination with Bernstein's music puts a deceptive, but necessary, candy-coating on what is unbearable. At the end, the Dresser filled up with tears, that Candide had awakened to a plan for a steady, good life.


Most of
us learned to live like a bootleg,
in the open corners, our presence overpowered

shadows from the
purple smell

of kerosene. It was the colors of
our kitchens--forest collards,
pumpkin soup & pink catfish--

that kept their attention &
taught us that everything could be candied--
counter tops, kisses, sinks & yams.

by Annik Adey-Babinski
from Okay Cool No Smoking Love Pony

Photo Credits: Scott Suchman


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 19, 2018 8:39 PM.

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