Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from <em>Candide</em> [Photo by Duane Tinkey courtesy of Des Moines Metro Opera]
27 Jul 2019

Des Moines: Best of All Possible Candide’s?

The version of Bernstein’s and (too-many-collaborators-to-mention) Candide that inhabited the Des Moines Metro Opera festival had a great deal to recommend it.

Des Moines: Best of All Possible Candide’s?

A review by James Sohre

Above: Scene from Candide

Photos by Duane Tinkey courtesy of Des Moines Metro Opera

 

Director Michael Shell had enough brilliant ideas for three productions, which at several gilded lily moments may have been one production too many. However, his task was not an easy one. Since I have addressed this before, I am going to quote myself:

Candide began life as a notorious 1956 Broadway flop, most notable for a Columbia cast recording, which showcased Bernstein’s eclectic score. After the show languished for some years, Harold Prince devised a 1 hour and 45-minute version with a new libretto by Hugh Wheeler, which was such a success at Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1973 that it moved Broadway for a hit two-year run in 1974. It was this lean and mean, interactive production that won me over, and I saw it four times. At last this meritorious score was married to a sassy, witty book and its previous problematic lack of Voltairean elan and coherent focus were fixed! Mais, attendez-vous. . .

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Now that it was a hit, opera houses expressed interest in a proscenium version in two acts. Prince (and others, including Bernstein) agreed to continue to tinker with it and began adding back in characters and songs that were extraneous. The temptation seems to have been great to re-order and darken the plot, resurrect good numbers that are nevertheless unnecessary, and worst, give enjoyable characters a weak second or third number that deserved to remain in Lenny’s trunk.

From the original recording, “Quiet” and “What’s the Use?” made a return to no real dramatic advantage other than being interesting tunes aurally. “The Venice Gavotte” had been re-purposed in 1974 as a delightful expository quartet (with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, no less). That quartet still opens the show, but now we have an action-stopping Gavotte in Act II as well, reprising that material and then some, adding length if not interest. In short, Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

DSC_6082.png

Back to the present review: In a survey, Candide was voted as the opera DMMO’s discerning audience most wanted to see and professional leasing arrangements now require that they use the official, composer-sanctioned Scottish Opera version. Des Moines’ entertaining staging stays true to the integrity of this “official” compilation, all the while seeking inventive means of enlivening it.

First off, Mr. Shell et al have quite correctly imagined this as a musical comedy. The satirical humor almost never fails to land thanks to craftily designed, richly nuanced interaction. I have never seen an audience more delighted by “You Were Dead, You Know,” including Mr. Prince’s legendary Broadway resurrection. Never. Shell knows his way around a comedy and a captivated auditorium was utterly engaged by his (often) ribald revelry.

I loved the whole improvisational feel of the evening. The choice of having Voltaire as a stand alone character, “writing” the show we were seeing as it transpired, was a master stroke. The formidably charming actor Wynn Harmon made much of his role as the motivator, scripter, and MC of the story. He steers the proceedings with aplomb and serves as the glue to hold this whole concept together and keep it careening merrily forward.

The sturdy baritone of Kyle Albertson not only enlivens Dr. Pangloss but serves up the cameo star turn of the pessimist Martin with panache. The latter character being wholly extraneous, Mr. Alberston nevertheless pins our ears back with his bombastic, cynical solo. (In a sad footnote, Kyle replaced the late Robert Orth who was to have performed these roles, and to whom the production was dedicated.)

DSC_6398.png

Tenor Jonathan Johnson is arguably the finest Candide of my experience. Not only is he boyishly appealing, he sings like a god. I have never heard the added aria “Nothing More Than This” more heart wrenchingly presented, all limpid tonal production and exquisitely poised sentiment. Deanna Breiwick is similarly stellar as Cunegonde. Eerily recalling Kristin Chenoweth (who famously played the role with the NY Philharmonic), Ms. Breiwick has it all: a plangent, flexible soprano of uncommon accomplishment; a savvy stage presence; and a meticulous musical technique that informs her well-rounded, polished portrayal. She literally stopped the show with her madcap, electrifying rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay.”

Emmett O’Hanlon’s self-important take on the egotistical Maximilian was well-served by a warm, responsive baritone and a lanky, handsome physique. Although he executed a slight Westphalian/German accent with skill, it was curious that no other Westphalian characters were so inclined and spoke in straight forward English. That decision was a curious distraction.

Eliza Bonet was a memorable Paquette, not an easy accomplishment since the character disappears for long stretches at a time. Ms. Bonet made the most of her every appearance embodying an infectious good humor, all the while wielding a vibrant, sizeable mezzo.

The venerable Jill Grove delivered the required star turn as a castanet-wielding Old Lady, singing the part with a lush, potent mezzo that made her traversal of “I Am Easily Assimilated” a real highlight. The production has curiously given her two "false start" star entrances. She comes on twice, each time “too early” in the progress of the story, castanets ablaze and is twice sent back off stage by Voltaire. This was a game attempt for a laugh, but did not quite land.

Curiously, in the Scottish Opera version of what was the Old Lady’s big monologue, which IS her star turn, the lines have been distributed between her and other characters, some of them choristers. The staging did its best with this revision, but I wish that the redoubtable Ms. Groves had been able to be given command of the whole original speech and left to manage its build and payoff.

Corey Bix was a larger than life Governor, threatening the paint on the walls with his commanding tenor. If he encountered a fuzzy patch or two, Mr. Bix knows how to sell a song and his artistic aplomb dominated his scene. Corey Trahan’s Cacambo was delectably witty. Mr. Trahan is a master of dialects (he uses several, each funnier than the last) and his comic timing is second to none. He enlivened his every scene and was yet another treasurable asset to this fast-paced evening’s entertainment. There are cameo roles too numerous to mention, all impersonated with ingenious individuality and securely sung by topflight talent.

DSC_0153.png

Thanks to the unique configuration of the Blank Performing Arts Center, director Shell’s staging has come the closest of any I have seen to suggest the atmosphere of the 1974 revival. Long before “immersive” theatre became today’s cliché for audience interaction and participation, Hal Prince “in the day” cooked up a Candide that had the audience everywhere in a circus-like configuration, and that saw actors passing conspicuously through patron seating, gadding about ramps that encircled whole sections, popping up in the audience, and tirelessly unfolding a fable that was often in dizzying motion. That was the great strength of that revival, and the same successful dynamic, albeit contained to stage and thrust, currently informs DMMO’s rambunctious presentation that spills and tumbles over every square inch of playing space.

Certainly Steven C. Kemp’s wildly original set design provided (primary) colorful additions with almost every change of scene. From the opening set of four massive, illuminated white bookcases, pieces came and went with such frequency (there are a LOT of different scenes) that I failed to notice at first that bits and bobs of most pieces remained behind, resulting over time in a rather cluttered collection of all the absurd locales and plot turns. The loudly applauded goof of having a flock of sheep “fall off” a gilded mountain in El Dorado, only to land in a clanking, cluttered, ignominious heap was alone the price of admission. Yahadda be there.

Nate Wheatley contributed another accomplished lighting design, mostly keeping the whole affair colorfully atmospheric, but for the several introspective scenes and arias, he concocted looks of appealing poignancy. Linda Pisano provided a tremendous costume design, notable for its unbelievable variety, its riotous colors, and its sheer number. The big production numbers were visually eye-catching, stage filling, and well-coordinated, thanks also to Todd Rhoades crackerjack, well-rehearsed choreography.

Having conducted a wrenching Wozzeck the night before, David Neely seemed to find a perfect way to cleanse the pallet as he led an effervescent reading of Candide. From the downbeat of the thrice-familiar overture to the stirring choral finish, Maestro Neely steered his accomplished forces with infectious relish.

Given the limitations of the edition that must now be used, might this have been the best of all possible Candide’s? The superb talent on display, the many happy solutions that mitigated structural challenges, the imagination and commitment to making Candide still work in the 21st Century, all lead me to say “yes.” I do know this: As the principals and Lisa Hasson’s thrilling Apprentice chorus sang the full-throated a capella section of “Make Our Garden Grow,” enveloping us in one of Bernstein’s most unbearably beautiful passages, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. It was the best of all possible moments.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Voltaire: Wynn Harmon; Dr. Pangloss/Martin: Kyle Albertson; Candide: Jonathan Johnson; Paquette: Eliza Bonet; Baron/Grand Inquisitor: Jesse Stock; Baroness: Emily Triebold; Cunegonde: Deanna Breiwick; Maximilian: Emmett O’Hanlon; Old Lady: Jill Grove; The Governor: Corey Bix; Cacambo: Corey Trahan; Croupier: Robert Gerold; Prince Ragotski: Alexander McKissick; Captain: Evan Hammond; Conductor: David Neely; Director: Michael Shell; Set Design: Steven C. Kemp; Lighting Design: Nate Wheatley; Costume Design: Linda Pisano; Make-Up/Hair Design: Brittany Crinson; Choreography: Todd Rhoades; Chorus Master: Lisa Hasson

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):