Sweden Bernstein, Candide: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Stockholm Opera / Stefan Klingele (conductor). Royal Stockholm Opera, 25.1.2020. (GF)
Director – Ole Anders Tandberg
Sets and lighting design – Markus Granqvist
Costumes and masks – Lena Lindgren
Choreography – Joakim Stephenson
Dramaturg – Katarina Aronsson
Sound – Lars-Göran Ehn
Video – Emi Stahl
Candide – Joel Annmo
Cunegonde – Elin Rombo
Pangloss / Ragotski / Martin – Jeremy Carpenter
Old Lady – Miriam Treichl
Vanderdendur / Governor / Captain / Crook – Klas Hedlund
Paquette – Matilda Paulsson
Maximilian / Grand Inquisitor – John-Erik Eleby
Baroness / Don Issachar /Mump Indian – Bernard Cauchard
Baron / Archbishop of Paris / Mump Indian – Yvan Auzely
Wise man of Eldorado – Henriikka Gröndahl
Prince Charles Edward – Daniel Ohlmann
Sultan Achmet – Gustav Ågren
King Hermann Augustus – Håkan Ekenäs
Tsar Ivan – Alar Pintsaar
King Stanislaus – Johan Lilja
Inquisitor – Mikael Onelius, Andreas Lundmark
Voltaire published his novel Candide, ou l’Optimisme in 1759 as a pamphlet against the philosopher Leibniz’s outspoken optimism. In the fanciful satire the young Candide is living a peaceful life with his mentor and professor Pangloss indoctrinating him with Leibniz’s teaching that we are living in the best of all worlds. But suddenly Candide, Pangloss and their friends, including Cunegonde, Candide’s beloved, are subjected to horrible events, forcing them to travel the world and experience innumerable disasters: war, earthquakes, slave trafficking, torture, shipwrecks … while Pangloss persists in preaching his message that this is still the best of all worlds. Voltaire referred in several instances to real events, for instance the earthquake in Lisbon 1755, when as many as 30,000 people lost their lives. When Leonard Bernstein presented his operetta based on the novel, part of the satire was aimed at Senator McCarthy’s persecution of the political left in the midst of the Cold War. More than 60 years later we can all identify other dangers, other disasters. Candide is timeless and with humour as a weapon the evil powers can be defeated. As he did in 1759, Candide can still withdraw from the turmoil of the world and cultivate his garden.
Bernstein’s Candide was no success at the premiere at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York on 1st December 1956, and it went through several revisions but is still often performed in concert form with a narrator. In the present production, the Old Lady’s role has been heavily amended and she is in effect both narrator and commentator. This is also a vehicle for updating the story to the present with references to local topicality. Miriam Treichl, who sang a memorable Carmen in Stockholm a year ago, is superb in the role with surefire timing and expressivity.
Voltaire’s novel is set in a world of fantasy, inspiring Ole Anders Tandberg and his team to create sets and costumes accordingly. Colourful sets and fanciful costumes lead us into a fairytale. In the first scene, the characters are enveloped in gigantic balls that make it impossible for Candide and Cunegonde to kiss each other, Pangloss arrives from above by umbrella, Mary Poppins-style. In one beautiful scene, the stage is populated by carrots. As Candide swims across the Atlantic(?) he meets a group of singing shellfish at the bottom of the ocean. The whole production is permeated with humour and playfulness, but this is contrasted with cruel disasters that wipe the smile right off one’s face. The busy chorus are dressed in black body-hugging costumes with white skeletons on them. It is a performance of both laughter and tears – perhaps indeed the best of all worlds.
Musically it is a great production. Stefan Klingele makes Bernstein’s score glitter, there is rhythmic verve and the Royal Orchestra are in the mood. In past years, Joel Annmo has created several memorable portraits and his Candide is a worthy companion to the previous ones. Rarely has his music been sung with such beauty. I remember hearing Jerry Hadley in this role almost thirty years ago at the Barbican, and Annmo is certainly his equal. Elin Rombo has the looks and charisma needed for Cunegonde and her singing produces shudders of pleasure. Glitter and be gay is absolutely irresistible. Jeremy Carpenter in his various disguises is also topnotch. Klas Hedlund’s stage presence is commanding while Matilda Paulsson and John-Erik Eleby never miss a beat. I must also mention Bernard Cauchard and Yvan Auzely for their virtuosity in various roles and, once more, Miriam Treichl’s Old Lady. She owns the stage whenever she enters.
I am sure not all members of the audience at the premiere agreed with my positive view, having overheard some dissent expressed during the interval. And yet this staging was remarkable for the way it alternated seamlessly between humour and seriousness, not to mention the high-level acting and singing. I found it deeply satisfying.