United States Bernstein, Candide: Soloists, Mansfield University Concert Choir, Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Rob Fisher (conductor), Carnegie Hall, New York, 18.4.2018. (RP)
Candide – Paul Appleby
Cunegonde – Erin Morley
Old Lady – Patricia Racette
Governor – William Burden
Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss – John Lithgow
Maximilian – Ryan Silverman
Paquette – Bryonha Marie Parham
Don Issachar – Danny Burstein
Archbishop – Len Cariou
Queen of Eldorado – Marilyn Horne
Inquisitors – Glenn Seven Allen, Ross Benoliel, Kyle Pfortmiller,
Vocal Quartet – Christine DiGiallonardo, Andrea Jones-Sojola, David Scott Purdy, Nathaniel Stampley
Ensemble Dancers – Paloma Garcia-Lee, Stephen Hanna, Akina Kitazawa, Devin Roberts,
Director – Gary Griffin
Choreographer – Joshua Bergasse
Sound Designer – Scott Lehrer
Costume Designer – Tracy Christensen
Lighting Designer – Alan Adelman
Projections Designer – Wendall K. Harrington
It took over 60 years for Bernstein’s Candide to play Carnegie Hall. Its brilliant overture and showstopper aria ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ have been heard here countless times in concert, but this one-night-only, gala performance done up in the Big Apple way was the first time for the full score. It was worth the wait, uniting the worlds of opera and musical comedy in a witty, wonderful production.
The leads were mostly opera stars. Paul Appleby was the Candide of one’s dreams: wide-eyed, innocent, winning. Every note he sang was pure gold. With a voice as brilliant as a diamond, Erin Morley, all high glamor with her hair piled atop her head, swathed in rose silk and wearing death-defying heels, hardly needed jewels to glitter. She sailed through Cunegonde’s bravura aria.
If Appleby’s Candide was the personification of naive earnestness, Morley’s Cunegonde was the total opposite, self-absorbed with a devil-may-care frivolity. How she would fare as a farmer’s wife was anyone’s guess.
As the Old Lady, Patricia Racette opted for a fussy busybody rather than a conniving hustler. It was difficult to penetrate the nondescript Eastern European accent that she laid on with a trowel, but she had her moments. The Old Lady’s duet with Cunegonde, ‘We Are Women’, was one of them. A clear audience favorite, William Burden was as much pirate king as governor, with a wicked glint in his eyes and a voice with real power.
Candide first played on Broadway, and its stars turned out too. John Lithgow did double duty as Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss, playing to type as his avuncular, befuddled self and holding his own in song. Len Cariou and Danny Burstein played Catholic and Jew respectively. They were the very models of ecumenism: rather than fighting over Cunegonde, they shared in ravishing and bejeweling her.
There were also performers on stage for whom crossover is the norm. Ryan Silverman and Bryonha Marie Parham are two of the finest. Silverman, dashing and strong-voiced, was a proper snob, totally dismissing Candide’s dreams of marrying his sister. As Paquette, the accommodating servant girl, Parham impressed with her voice and vivid acting.
There was also a true legend on stage, Marilyn Horne, a crown atop her head and robed in red. The sight of her singing along to the final chorus, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, brought a lump to my throat. How many years has it been since she ended her singing career on that same stage performing ‘Dream with Me’ from Bernstein’s Peter Pan?
Director Gary Griffin, a Broadway veteran who previously staged The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall, has cracked the code for successful semi-staged productions. Projections transformed Carnegie Hall’s cream and gilt into Westphalia, Paris, Lisbon, El Dorado, Venice and the other exotic locales. High art combined with kitsch (the bejeweled red sheep dropping dead one by one were priceless) to serve as the backdrop to Candide’s surreal adventures. The fluid choreography channeled Bob Fosse, as did the dancers’ chic costumes.
Carnegie Hall’s Candide was equally as surefooted musically under the baton of Rob Fisher, whose credits mirror those of Griffin. The score’s sparkle, froth and high jinks were all there. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s is as fine as they come, while the poise, confident singing and rich sound of the Mansfield University Concert Choir belied their youth. Judging from their beaming faces, the chorus members had drunk from the same cup of optimism as had Appleby’s Candide.
It is not the least bit churlish to note that there were a few glitches. For better or worse, the production was miked, and the fine-tuning lasted through most of the first act. A few lighting cues were missed, and Lithgow went up on a few of his lines. A terrific performance does not require technical perfection. It does, however, demand a longer run.