Los Angeles Theater Preview: CANDIDE (LA Opera)

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by Tony Frankel on January 27, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


There isn’t much I could say about the musical Candide that hasn’t been written about before. What I can say is never miss an opportunity to catch a production, especially when it’s a full-on spectacle like the one opening tonight with LA Opera. Leonard Bernstein created one of our greatest Broadway scores when he – along with Lillian Hellman (book), Richard Wilbur (lyrics) and John Latouche (additional lyrics) – adapted Voltaire’s 1758 novel satirizing the mores of the Enlightenment (which was published three years before the Vatican placed the novella on its index of forbidden books).

This is one creation that really can’t be compared to other Broadway compositions. Bernstein’s profoundly sophisticated and witty score is in a class by itself. The music actually has an 18th-century effect but feels wholly modern. Just as Voltaire burlesques society in a literate manner, so, too, does Bernstein with music, the most well-known being “Glitter and Be Gay,” a coloratura aria introduced by Barbara Cook when the show opened in 1956.

There are also trios, quarters, waltzes, sublime ballads, a devilish tango, hornpipes, and many other riveting, jaw-dropping, cream-covered offerings. Even the Overture has become a staple with symphonies and philharmonics around the world. (The difference between the two great men is that Voltaire dished a constant stream of cynicism; Bernstein touches your heart with bittersweet and vulnerable work, especially in the finale, “Make Our Garden Grow,” and “Candide’s solos “It Must Be So” and “Lament.”)

Yet even with that glorious score, the libretto seems to change with each new production (even Bernstein tinkered with the score itself up to his death); and with each new libretto, songs come and go. The operetta has been continually rewritten since the ’56 opening. Hellman’s version, called “academic, blunt, and barefaced” by Walter Kerr, was tossed in 1973 and replaced with one by Hugh Wheeler for Hal Prince’s version (with added lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) that lost half of the music, which in turn was rewritten by John Caird in 1999 for the Royal National Theatre. Caird’s adaptation sticks closest to Voltaire’s book, and this is the version that comes into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through February 18, 2018, staged by Francesca Zambello, re-creating her Glimmerglass Festival production staged in upstate New York three years ago.

The story follows Candide as he travels the world seeking his beloved Cunegonde. After proposing marriage to his love, Candide is kicked out of a Baron’s home – an Edenic paradise – and he and other characters go through ridiculously unendurable trials such as torture, jail, lost love, hanging, and the boredom of sameness and riches. Disillusionment occurs after he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world; Candide comes to realize that simplicity (“Make Our Garden Grow”) takes precedence over the advice of his tutor Dr. Pangloss, who said: “Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

Any huge mounting of Candide is to be celebrated, but there’s more great news: Alongside opera greats Jack Swanson (Candide), Erin Morley (Cunegonde), Theo Hoffman (Maximillian), and Peabody Southwell (Paquette) are Broadway stalwarts Christine Ebersole as the Old Lady and Kelsey Grammer as Pangloss. James Conlon conducts the LA Opera orchestra.

photos by Ken Howard

LA Opera
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Ave
* Saturday, January 27, 2018, at 7:30
* Saturday, February 3, 2018, at 7:30
* Thursday, February 8, 2018, at 7:30
* Sunday, February 11, 2018, at 2
* Thursday, February 15, 2018, at 7:30
* Saturday, February 17, 2018, at 2
* Sunday, February 18, 2018, at 2
for tickets, call 213.972.8001 or visit LA Opera

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