Tag: NYC Opera

Candide indeed

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

At the New York State Theater tonight for a performance Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. This production returned to the New York City Opera repertoire for fourteen performances in April after a three-year hiatus.

Candide’s journey from page to stage was famously bumpy. Bernstein himself never seemed completely satisfied with the work, which he envisioned as an American version of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta. (It’s billed at the NYC Opera as “The Great American Opera.”) He and playwright Lillian Hellman began collaborating on the musical adaptation of Voltaire’s satirical novel in 1954, united in their indignation over the anti-Communist McCarthy hearings. The heavily revised work, which also featured contributions from poet Richard Wilbur and Hellman’s friend Dorothy Parker — opened on Broadway in 1956, and closed after an abysmal 73 performances.

When Hellman refused to work on a rewrite, additional collaborators were brought in; over the next twenty years, six writers contributed lyrics, characters were modified and redrafted, and segments of the operetta edited in and out. Distinguished director-producer Harold “Hal” Prince (West Side Story, Cabaret) revived the operetta in one form for Broadway in 1974, where it enjoyed a 740 performance run, and won that year’s Tony for Hugh Wheeler’s new book.

Yet another Prince production — known as “the opera house version” – debuted at the State Theater in 1982 with lyrics by Wilbur, and additional lyrics by Bernstein, John Latouche and Stephen Sondheim. It restored numerous sections of music that had been previously discarded, in response to requests from opera companies for a more legitimate version of Bernstein’s vision.

Audiences are often conflicted over their response to Candide, unsure of whether to approach it as a musical or as an opera. Although the score is almost universally admired — the original 1956 Broadway cast recording has something of a cult following — as a dramatic work, it loses momentum in the filler-heavy second half before settling into its final, improbably happy ending – banishments, betrayals, beatings, murders, rapes, shipwreck, plague and earthquake all forgotten. (Did I mention that it’s a comedy?)

Stage and screen star Richard Kind led the cast in the dual roles of Dr. Pangloss/Voltaire. Daniel Reichard, who created the role of Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys on Broadway, was set to star as the ever-optimistic protagonist, but shortly before curtain it was announced that he was battling a stomach flu and would be unable to perform that night. His understudy Shonn Wiley stepped into the lead, performing with confident ease, offering not a hint that this was his debut of the role. For his efforts, Wiley received cheers and a standing ovation – the most enthusiastic reception of the night.

And let us try,
Before we die,
To make some sense of life.
We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
Candide, “Make Our Garden Grow

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