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Perfect ‘Candide’ remains an impossible dream, as LA Opera production succumbs to same old traps

By in Press Enterprise on February 1, 2018

By Jim Farber

Almost from the moment Leonard Bernstein’s satirical musical comedy “Candide” opened (and flopped) on Broadway, Dec. 1, 1956, the composer and a succession of writers (a who’s who of Broadway) set about to revise it. They were convinced a perfect “Candide” was possible if they could just come up with the right combination of words and music. The quest continues.

Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Opera threw its hat in the ring with a gaudy new production directed by Francesca Zambello and co-produced with the Glimmerglass Festival, Opera National of Bordeaux and Theatre du Capitole de Toulouse.

And while it’s a grand way for LA Opera to acknowledge the Bernstein centenary, this “Candide” stumbles into the same old pitfalls that have swallowed up so many revivals in the past — namely the story itself.

Jack Swanson is the title character and Erin Morley is Cunégonde in LA Opera’s production of “Candide.” (Photo by Ken Howard/LA Opera)

The program’s list of contributing writers includes Lillian Hellman, Hugh Wheeler and Richard Wilbur (the original team) with “additional lyrics” by Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein.

It was Parker who famously observed when she abandoned the project, “There were too many geniuses involved.”

“Candide,” the musical, is adapted from the 1759 novella by Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire. It is a lampoon of the philosophy of optimism, which espoused that because God is perfect, his (or her) creation must also be perfect — “the best of all possible worlds.” When things go wrong, from the carnage of war to the devastation of a massive earthquake, it’s all part of God’s plan.

Bollocks to that said Voltaire, as did Bernstein and Hellman, who saw in Voltaire’s morality tale a parallel to the anti-Communist mania of Joseph McCarthy and its jingoistic brand of American […]    

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