By Brian Scott Lipton
If the great composer Leonard Bernstein was still alive today, he’d be just a few months shy of his 100thbirthday. And I have little doubt he’d still be tinkering with “Candide,” the gorgeous semi-operatic adaptation of Voltaire’s caustically satiric novel that he reworked, rearranged and rewrote numerous times between its 1956 Broadway premiere and his death in 1990.
Fortunately, I also have little doubt he’d have very few criticisms of the splendid concert production delivered on April 18 at Carnegie Hall for its annual gala. An exceedingly well-populated affair, with the fabulous Orchestra of St. Luke’s (under Rob Fisher’s direction) and the large Mansfield University Concert Choir helping to bring out every note of the score’s magnificent musicality, it’s likely too large to be replicated or even recorded –making those of us who were in the room where it happened even luckier.
Of course, a great deal of the credit for the evening’s success belongs to director Gary Griffin — aided by the lilting choreography of Joshua Bergasse and the stunningly evocative and often witty projections of Wendall K. Harrington — who delivered a simple yet theatrical-enough production that allowed the audience to focus on the show’s divine music, lyrics (credited primarily to Richard Wilbur, with contributions by Stephen Sondheim, Dorothy Parker, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman and Bernstein himself), and libretto (crafted by the peerless Hugh Wheeler for the show’s 1973 revival).
We easily followed this picaresque tale of the naïve yet determined Candide who travels the world – rarely of his own accord – in a constant attempt to reconcile with his true love (and probable cousin) Cunegonde after the two are separated by a bloody war in their home province of Westphalia. Opera stars Paul Appleby and Erin Morley were nothing short of glorious in these roles; Appleby’s expressive tenor led extraordinary poignancy to such tunes as “It Must Be So,” “Candide’s Lament,” and “Nothing More Than This,” while the coquettish Morley’s wondrous soprano made the now-legendary aria “Glitter and Be Gay” seem nearly effortless, as well as quite funny.
The show’s smaller roles were equally well-filled, beginning with the ever-delightful John Lithgow, in fine fettle and surprisingly good voice, as narrator Voltaire and philosophical tutor Dr. Pangloss (who, no matter the circumstances, believes his current existence is the “best of all possible worlds.”). Opera great Patricia Racette wasn’t as over-the-top as some of her noted predecessors as the ultra-practical “Old Lady”; but she did full justice to the part, especially her big number “I Am Easily Assimilated.” William Burden was deliciously slimy as the greedy Governor; Ryan Silverman was suitably strong-voiced and handsome as the preening Maximillian; while Bryonna Marie Parham was a welcome Paquette.
And perhaps best of all, the audience was treated to three marvelous if brief cameos: Broadway greats Danny Burstein and Len Cariou as Cunegonde’s lovers, Don Issachar and the Archbishop (both quickly and rather hilariously murdered by Candide), and opera legend Marilyn Horne, who brought her regal presence and winning personality to the non-singing role of the Queen of Eldorado.
Yet, even with the biggest stars on stage, it’s Bernstein’s music that fills the house and the heart. Indeed, if you don’t shed a single tear (inside or out) during the moving finale, “Make Our Garden Grow,” you are simply not human!
Photos: Chris Lee
Candide played Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, April 18.