BWW Review: Pointer/Counterpoint – City Opera's CANDIDE vs. Prototype's BREAKING THE WAVES

(I wonder what it would be like for Duffy and Picerno to switch roles?)

The music

The original cast recording of Bernstein's music kept CANDIDE alive even when the show was considered unproducible. The current production brings out all its strong points, from the lively Overture through to the final "Let Our Garden Grow," in a more subdued, subtle version than City Opera previously used, fitting with these unsettled times. The music also provided room for hilarious, well-sung turns from Gregg Edelman (Dr. Pangloss), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Candide), Linda Lavin (the Old Lady), Jessica Tyler Wright (Paquette), Chip Zien and Brooks Ashmankas (the latter two in multiple roles).

In WAVES, Duffy's voice soared in some of Mazzoli's most tantalizing music--the brilliant arias, "His Name is Jan" and "The Map of Jan's Body"--in an unforgettable performance. But the composer's wonderful score--under the sure baton of Julian Wachner leading the NOVUS NY ensemble--and libretto also provided great opportunities for the other principals in the cast. These included baritone John Moore (pulling off the dramatically difficult role of Jan, immobile for much of the opera), mezzo Eve Gigliotti (an outstanding performance as Dodo, Bess's sister-in-law) and tenor Dominic Armstrong (a sturdy, well sung Dr. Richardson). I wished that bass Matthew Curran--an addition to the cast since the premiere--had more to do as Terry, Jan's friend from the oil rig where he was injured, because he brought some well-needed humor to the proceedings, along with a sensitive side. Also welcome to the production was the warm mezzo Theodora Hanslowe (Bess's mother) in a most unsympathetic role.

Mazzoli showed her wide-ranging skills as a composer, with her brilliant orchestral and chorus writing that could be, by turns, spiky and atonal or melodic and soulful. They were wonderfully rendered by the NOVUS NY players along with members of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus and the Choir of Trinity Church Wall Street (where Wachner is Music Director). The chorus had double duty, first as the cold-hearted parishioners who dominate the island (with the excellent baritone Marcus DeLoach as the Minister), then playing a variety of other roles.

The productions

With Hal Prince at the helm--for the umpteenth time since his resurrection of CANDIDE in 1973--and choreography by Pat Birch, the show was in very good hands. The playful designs of Clarke Dunham, costumes by Judith Dolan, lighting by Ken Billington and sound by Abe Jacob do all they can to replicate in a proscenium the fun of Prince's original environmental production as done at BAM in Brooklyn and then on Broadway. The orchestra, under Charles Prince, and chorus kept things zipping along.

The stark production for WAVES, with sensational work from director James Darrah, couldn't have been further from "fun," though the uneven base of the scenic design by Adam Rigg kept everyone off-balance as if in a funhouse. If anything, the director's work seemed better here than at the premiere last fall, helping to mold the towering performance from Duffy and the overpowering gloom of life on the island. The physical production's towering walls are covered by Adam Larsen's atmospheric projections--sometimes seeming like a Rorschach test of Bess's mind--and the atmospheric lighting design of Pablo Santiago helped set the ever-darkening mood. The costume design by Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko was a key tool in mapping Bess's decline and fall from grace.

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BREAKING THE WAVES completed its three-performance run at the Prototype Festival on Monday. CANDIDE, at the Jazz from Lincoln Center Rose Theatre, Broadway and West 62 Street, continues through next weekend: January 11@7:30pm, 12@7:30pm, 13@7:30pm, 14@2pm, January 15@4pm. For ticket information.

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by Richard Sasanow - January 19, 2017

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.