WNO’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide is exciting, exuberant and full of vitality - outstanding in every way. Combining wit, spectacle and dancing, it’s unmissable.
Bernstein’s opera was written in the 1950s, the period of the McCarthy witch-hunts, and he chose Voltaire’s Candide as a source at the suggestion of Lillian Hellman, because its inclusion of the Spanish Inquisition provided a useful parallel. This WNO production offers a vivid and grim presentation of the Inquisition in Act 1, contrasting with the prevailing comedy.
Speaking of McCarthyism, Bernstein’s score is thoroughly un-American. It is eclectic, making full use of the musical idioms of European opera and operetta from Offenbach to Kurt Weill, adding teasing rhythms, and adroitly mimicking Stravinsky one moment and circus bands the next. The works of Bertolt Brecht are the closest theatrical antecedents of this surreal satire combining a narrative with acting in rapidly shifting scenes. Placing the orchestra on the stage worked well to abolish “realism” and the players under conductor Karen Kamensek gave an electrifying performance.
The versatile tenor Ed Lyon whose rôles range from Handel to Wagner (https://wno.org.uk/profile/ed-lyon) made a very likeable Candide, naive but loyal always to his beloved Cunégonde, whatever vicissitudes they may both have undergone.
Young Irish soprano Claudia Boyle (https://wno.org.uk/profile/claudia-boyle) as Cunégonde gave a stellar performance that encompassed some absolutely stunning coloratura singing, wild dancing and a hilarious Madonna impersonation. I am not surprised that one of her rôles is Queen of the Night, as she has the voice, stamina and virtuosity.
Madeleine Shaw as the Old Lady provided some outstanding comic acting although she was not quite audible enough in some scenes.
The creative team - James Bonas (Director), Grégoire Pont (Video and Animations) and Thibault Vancraenenbroeck (Set Designer) are to be congratulated for the clever and visually entertaining presentation. It worked very well indeed.
It’s quite accurate to describe this production as a show, and a musical but it’s so much more. Millions of people go to see popular Broadway or West End musicals - some of which Bernstein wrote - and far fewer go to see opera. This production is just what is needed to persuade the majority that they need to see opera, because it can be just as exciting and entertaining, while offering more sophisticated ideas, and singers who can really sing (not just yell into a microphone while adopting a fake American accent). It also offers food for thought. Voltaire’s ridicule of the idea that we live in the “best of all possible worlds” was meant as a warning against smugness or despair. We must “cultivate our garden” i.e. do whatever we can in our modest way to improve it, however huge and daunting the task at time appears.
Rest of the Cast:-
Gillian Bevan Pangloss | Narrator | Sage | Beggar Aled Hall Governor | Vanderdendur Mark Nathan Maximilian Francesca Saracino Paquette Dafydd Allen Captain and Crook Fiona Harrison-Wolfe Sheep 1 Helen Greenaway Sheep 2 Michael Clifton-Thompson Judge 1 | Señor 1 Alastair Moore Judge 2 | Señor 2 Martin Lloyd Judge 3 Gareth Dafydd Morris Baron Angharad Morgan Baroness Julian BoyceArchbishop Sarah Pope Guest 1 Stephen Wells Guest 2 Stella Woodman Aide Alun Rhys-Jenkins Ragotski Dancers:- Ruby Davies, Rachel Harris, Cerian Jordan, Vivian Gayle, Ben Anderson, Michael Kirby, Amaris Gillies