Candide Sings Again at NYCO

By: Apr. 16, 2008

A mere three years after he last sang at New York City Opera, Candide is back at the State Theatre, as cock-eyed an optimist as Nellie Forbush next door. With this, the third major revival of the Leonard Bernstein 1956 flop in the past four years, Candide might just become as perennial at NYCO as Gypsy is on Broadway. Taking the place of the previously-announced Ragtime, this latest iteration of their stock production has plenty of fun moments, but somehow doesn't feel all that exciting.

Which is not to say that the production isn't enjoyable. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. After all, who could complain about that score performed by an enormous company of top-tier singers and accompanied by a full orchestra? For all the trouble Bernstein and his coterie of lyricists and librettists had in adapting Voltaire's classic satire for the stage, NYCO's production may not be the best of all possible Candide's, but it is at least fun if not emotionally thrilling. Hugh Wheeler's book might not have the satiric bite Lillian Hellman wanted for the show, but he manages to strike an appropriately bittersweet balance for Bernstein's lush and lovely music (not to mention the lyrical contributions of... oh, hell, pick a lyricist from the past fifty years and they probably wrote something for Candide).

But with so many Candides in recent memory, this production simply feels like another run around the block before we've had a chance to catch our breath. And that seems to be the millstone around this production's neck: while the score may be lovely and the performers terrifically talented, it lacks the energy and vitality of something new. It features the same direction (Harold Prince's original show-within-a-show staging is again recreated by Arthur Masella), same Patricia Birch choreography, same commedia dell'arte set by Clarke Dunham, and even many of the singers in the ensemble appeared in the 2005 production.

Fortunately, the production does have some bright new stars who breathe fresh life the characters. Daniel Reichard is all wide-eyed innocence in the title role, singing with a nice, clear tenor voice that serves Bernstein's tricky score well. As his beloved Cunegonde, young Lauren Worsham plays off of Reichard's anxious energy well, though her "Glitter and Be Gay" lacked the power and dazzle of Natalie Dussay or even (dare I say it) La Chenoweth (I dared). Jessica Wright is a cute and winsome Paquette, more coquette than strumpet, and sings with a sweet voice. Judy Blazer, who made a heartbreaking Beggar Woman in NYCO's Sweeney Todd several years back, gets to show off her comic skills as the Old Lady, delivering her lines with bone-dry wit that nicely fits the satire. Kyle Pfortmiller, the one holdover from the 2005 principal cast, is an appropriately blustery Maximilian, and his rich baritone is lovely.

And then there is Richard Kind, who takes on the roles of Voltaire, Dr. Pangloss, the Governor and just about everyone else Candide meets on his travels. Kind begins the evening playing Dr. Pangloss as a mix of Jack Benny and Groucho Marx, but gradually lets his comedy become darker as Candide's journeys become more perilous. If his singing voice isn't the typical stuff of opera, he is still able to hit and hold the high notes in "My Love," and gives the role a genuine warmth that, in such a cynical musical, is most welcome.

Perhaps when Gerard Mortier takes over the artistic direction of New York City Opera, he will wait more than three years before reviving Candide again. But when he does so, he might want to tackle it with a new, fresh vision. After so many years, and so many productions, the show just feels tired.
 



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