BWW Review: Arizona Opera's CANDIDE Is The Best of All Possible CANDIDEs
Every age and every institution must have its critics, if for no other reason than they not become ends in themselves or corrupted by their self-righteousness or complacent in ignoring their deficiencies or contradictions. For the French Enlightenment, Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire fulfilled this role famously as the gadfly of the Catholic Church, the government, and his fellow philosophers.
Prominent among Voltaire's works was CANDIDE, his novella eschewing the optimistic notions of the day, particularly those of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz for whom the world was the best possible world that God could have created.
Fast forward a couple of centuries to the best possible world of Leonard Bernstein and his 1956 adaptation of CANDIDE into an operetta ~ and then, to Arizona Opera's mounting of the classic (as part of its celebration of the Centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth) in what can unequivocally be extolled as a masterful production. (CANDIDE was performed at Phoenix's Symphony Hall from February 2nd through the 4th, following its premiere at Tucson Music Hall.)
The show was a bonanza of outstanding performances, featuring Curt Olds as Dr. Pangloss, the prototypical proponent of Liebnizian optimism and Candide's teacher; Miles Mykkanen as the peripatetic (or, shall we coin a word, peripathetic) Candide, who rationalizes his multiple encounters with disaster through the rose-colored glasses of his mentor; and Katrina Galka as Candide's beloved Cunegonde, gleefully acing the intricate Glitter and Be Gay aria and hitting the high Cs and Es with remarkable ease. Ann McMahon Quintero, a last-minute substitute for the role of The Old Lady, delivered the goods and was terrific as Cunegonde's companion with a trail of woes of her own.
If we were left only with Bernstein's eclectic score ( Joseph Colaneri, conductor), the outstanding turns of the cast, Amy Beth Frankel's vibrant choreography, and James Scott's lavish costumes, we should be elated enough. However, Christopher Mattaliano has delivered a production that is unique in its use of technology and design and that raises the bar high on any future undertaking of CANDIDE. Jerome Sirlin's sloping set and innovative use of digital projection is the transformative ~ and jaw-dropping ~ vehicle for transporting the characters from one turbulent and raucous scene to another. All of the pieces of this CANDIDE weave together into a seamless whole, complementing each other perfectly and serving up a deliciously funny and robust example of how, if done right, the attributes of opera and the Broadway musical can intersect.
Anthony Tommasini, the classical music critic for the New York Times, once noted the difference between opera and musical theater: "Both genres seek to combine words and music in dynamic, felicitous and, to invoke that all-purpose term, artistic ways. But in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first." It is a testament to Bernstein's genius that he bridged the two and did so magnificently with CANDIDE. It is a testament to Arizona Opera that it has honored the master with an epic production of his classic.
Photo credit to Tim Trumble