Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)
07 Jun 2011

Candide, Barbican Centre

‘Glitter and be gay!’ cries Cunegonde, determined to overcome the bitter circumstances in which she finds herself in sordid, downturn Paris.

Leonard Bernstein: Candide

Andrew Staples: Candide; Kiera Duffy: Cunegonde; Kim Criswell: Old Lady; Jeremy Huw Williams: Pangloss, Martin; David Robinson: Governer, Vanderdendur, Ragotski; Marcus Deloach: Maximilan, Captain; Kristy Swift: Paquette; Jeffrey Tucker: Bear Keeper, Inquisitor, Tzar Ivan; Matthew Morris: Cosmetic Merchant, Inquisitor, Charles Edward; Jason Switzer: Doctor, King Stanislaus; Michael Scarcelle: Junkman, Inquisitor, Hermann Augustus, Croupier; Peter Tantsits: Alchemist, Inquisitor, Sultan Achmet, Crook. London Symphony Chorus. London Symphony Orchestra. Kristjan Järvi: conductor. Thomas Kiemle: director/producer. Barbican Centre, London, Sunday, 5th June, 2011.

Above: François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)


And, her show-shopping number from Bernstein’s opera-operatta-musical, Candide, certainly provided an apt watchword for this concert performance at London’s Barbican Centre on Sunday evening, which fizzed and sparkled, oozing happiness and sweetness to wash away the occasional glints of darkness.

From the first downbeat of Kristjan Järvi’s baton, as he furiously kick-started a breakneck overture, to the stirring choral conclusion, the energy never once flagged, and the melodies kept flowing. Järvi control of Bernstein’s flexible structures, with their changing time signatures, flexible syncopations and cross rhythms was superb, and he deftly kept the large forces of the orchestra and chorus synchronised, give or take a few untidy ritenutos, dynamically driving them forward. It’s not often that one sees an entire viola section smiling beatifically to themselves, but that’s what happened here as they rang out yet another glorious overture melody, anticipating the optimistic sentiments of Candide’s and Cunegonde’s vision of future bliss, ‘Oh happy we’. The LSO’s instrumentalists obviously enjoyed the indulgent riches of this colourful and euphonious score, and relished the variety of the composer’s effortless pastiches and parodies, although at times I would have liked a little more brash boldness from the brass and reckless abandon from the percussionists!

The chorus were in boisterous mood, their carefree swaying and animated hand-waving, providing a dash or two of visual humour to match the primary-colour lighting which flagged up changes of mood, for anyone in doubt. Having collapsed anarchically as the Westphalian schloss Thunder-ten-Tronck succumbed to an enemy onslaught, the chorus gleefully bobbed and cheered — ‘Watch ‘em die! … Hang ‘em high’ — through the frenzied mayhem of the Auto-da-fé. Their rather uncoordinated involvement was funny the first time, but rather tiring on the second, third, fourth occasion. However, by the final chorus, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, they were back firmly under the control of the conductor’s baton for the stunningly powerful a cappella declaration, ‘Let dreamers dream what world they please’.

Best of the soloists was Andrew Staples, as a wide-eyed, innocent Candide; he balanced a firm, focused tone with moments of more gentle reflection. The bright buoyancy of his opening ‘Life is happiness indeed’ had, without undue sentimentality, modulated by the end of his journey into a moving moment of realism and disillusion, as his love and hopes dissipated into ‘Nothing more than this’ — Cunegonde was really only in it for the money. Candide’s two Meditations in Act 1 were the highlight of the evening as, supported by piquantly alternating major/minor harmonies, he floated perfectly placed rising major sixths to convey his tender hopes that his teacher Pangloss’s maxim could indeed be true: ‘There is a sweetness in every woe’. Staples sincerity was utterly convincing as he put his faith in the ‘kindness’ and ‘sunlight I cannot see’; and strong harp and woodwind playing gave rhythmic and harmonic propulsion, suggesting optimism and resolution.

At times, Kiera Duffy might have done well to remember that power sometimes works best when balanced with restraint. For, while she dazzled in ‘Glitter and be gay’, crystal clear when striking the stratospheric heights of Cunegonde’s wild enthusiasm for a bling-laden life of recklessness and glamour, she allowed her enthusiasm to get the better of her and at times was in danger of slipping into melodrama and histrionics.

She was matched in her excesses by Kim Criswell, an old stager of musical theatre and ‘cross-over’, whose Old Lady was a wild, backcomb-haired banshee, exuberantly flinging herself — and her partners — into the tempestuous tango of the aptly titled ‘I am easily assimilated’, and the musical hall antics of ‘What’s the use’. Marcus DeLoach, as Maximilian, was one of the few whose diction was unfailingly crisp and biting; and, in various supporting roles, Jeffrey Tucker, Matthew Morris, Charles Edward, Jason Switzer, Peter Tantsits and Michael Scarcelle were uniformly accomplished.

But, I found Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams a disappointing Pangloss; he distinctly lacked the warm openness of sound needed to convey Pangloss’s spirit of innocent optimism. There was little sparkle, despite his diamante-studded tie, and he fell back on bluster and posturing. Both pitch and words were pretty indiscriminate, which made the title of his aria, in his second role as Martin, wryly ironic — ‘Words, words, words’.

Certainly, there is nothing sacred about Bernstein’s text. No fewer than six contributors had a hand in the book and lyrics, and it underwent numerous revisions, with Bernstein himself being involved in at least seven of them! Here we were treated to a cynical, occasionally acidic, narration by Rory Kinnear — updating that prepared by Bernstein and John Wells for concert performance. Kinnear reprised some of the bitter scepticism of his recent Hamlet at the National Theatre. Leaping blithely onto the platform, he was a master of droll scepticism, eye-brows arched, tongue firmly in-cheek. I suspect that many of the topical witticisms were added, or even improvised, by Kinnear himself; his voice amplified, we could sharply hear every riposte, something which could not always be said for the singers themselves who suffered when Järvi gave chorus and orchestra free rein, despite their placing at the front of the stage. It didn’t help that, although the libretto was printed in the programme, it was impossible to read the text in the darkened auditorium — at least during in the first Act before, presumably, complaints made their way to the stage management …

There was one ‘wrong note’ in Kinear’s narration, however, and it came right at the end when, interrupting the triumphant final cadences of the gloriously overwhelming chorus, he sardonically asked the audience, ‘Any questions?’, a quip which jarred with the musical sentiments expressed. Of course, there are no ‘questions’: the music is unambiguously jubilant, the ‘message’ clear.

That said, this flippant parting shot couldn’t dampen my spirits at the end of this wonderful performance and, despite the torrential June downpour, my smile lasted all the way home.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):