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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

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):