Opera Scotland

Candide

Music

Leonard Bernstein (born Lawrence, Massachusetts, 25 August 1918; died 14 October 1990).

Text

Book: Lillian Hellman, rev. by Hugh Wheeler. Lyrics: Richard Wilbur, rev. by John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein & (later revision) Stephen Sondheim.

Source

Novel Candide (1756) by Voltaire (François Marie Arouet 1694-1778).

 

Premières

First Performance: New York (Martin Beck Theater), 1 December 1956.

First Performance in UK: London (Saville Theatre), 30 April 1959.

First performance (Revision): New York (Chelsea Theater Center), 18 December 1973.

First performance in UK (Revision): Edinburgh (Assembly Hall), August 1981.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 19 May 1988.

 

Background

The history of Candide in its various revisions is horribly complicated. Bernstein's music for Candide covers almost every style from Broadway through Latin-American to operatic, with nods to all sorts of other styles on the way. It is great fun, it is certainly never dull, but it is perhaps difficult to categorize. It is not alone in that respect, in that Weill's Street Scene and other late works, and some of Sondheim's shows, especially Sweeney Todd, have encountered similar difficulty with audience expectation and reaction. Even though it was successful at its opening (though it was a success eclipsed by Bernstein's next show, West Side Story), it was widely accepted that the work was not in its ideal final state. The original book by Lillian Hellman was substantially replaced by Hugh Wheeler's new version in 1973. Many of Wilbur's original lyrics survive, but several other hands made a contribution to the various revisions. Scottish Opera's 1988 version was highly regarded at the time, even if the Jonathan Miller staging sometimes seemed over-serious. And Bernsteing introduced further adjustments before performing it in London and recording it as one of his last major projects.

 

Main Characters

Dr Pangloss, a tutor and philosopher (baritone)

Maximilian, a young Westphalian aristocrat (baritone)

Cunégonde, his sister (soprano)

Paquette, their mother's maid (mezzo-soprano)

Candide, an illegitimate relation (tenor)

Old Lady (mazzo-soprano).

 

Plot Summary

In the eighteenth century, many examples of popular fiction involved, our hero in lengthy and hazardous travels. In the English-speaking world, Fielding's Tom Jones and Swift Gulliver's Travels are only two of the most renowned. Candide takes the travels and piling of one coincidence on another to very confusing lengths - and doesn't scruple to kill off characters at will, only to be resurected later on when convenient.

In Westphalia, Maximilian and Cunegonde are the children of a Baron and Baroness. They are educated by their tutor, Pangloss, in a foursome along with Paquette, their mother's maid, and Candide, a handsome young man of indeterminate parentage. All goes happily according to Pangloss's dictum that "All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds" until a relationship springs up between Cunégonde and her unsuitable relation - Candide is expelled from Eden. He joins the army and is bullied mercilessly. After deserting, war breaks out, Westphalia is overrun, and the Baron and his family are slaughtered. Candide begins his travels - to Portugal (and the great earthquake of 1755), Paris (where Cunégonde turns out not to be dead after all). He then travels to Buenos Aires, finds his way to Eldorado, then crosses the Atlantic eastwards once more, to end in Venice. On his travels he constantly meets up with Cunégonde, Maximilian, and Pangloss in various perilous situations, as well as the wonderfully colourful character of the Old Lady, who gleefully dominates every scene in which she appears. At last he and Cunegonde are united and look forward to a happier world.

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