About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Opera Review: The Way the Big Wheel Spins

The New York City Opera bets the farm on Candide.
The cast of Candide hoofs through "What's the Use?" in Act II of the Leonard
Bernstein comedy. Photo by Sarah Shartz © 2017 The New York City Opera.
In 1982, the legendary Broadway director Hal Prince mounted Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at the New York City Opera. That show did much to salvage the reputation of the composer's most problematic stage work. Candide first came to life as a Broadway musical. It bombed, was rewritten (with a new libretto) and rebuilt an operetta with slight plot differences. The Prince solution was to present a sort of hybrid, a revised, two-act comedy that filtered Voltaire's cynicism through Bernstein's gift for a good tune supported by musical references to most of the major opera composers that had come before.

Cut to 2017, where a very different City Opera under the aegis of impresario Michael Cappasso is tackling Candide once more. Mr. Prince is the director of this new production. He has built a handsome, frenetic new staging, and hired his son Charles to man the controls in the orchestra pit. The show, mounted at the intimate, comfortable Rose Theater in the Time Warner Center features a blend of young opera talent and old Broadway hands, with some singers using discreet amplification and the others showing the mettle of their voices.

Knowing the tortured history of Candide is helpful for understanding the flaws in this new production. At Thursday night's performance, singers and actors burst out the energy of operetta but had trouble maintaining that momentum as the opera ground to a dead stop after the Act I auto da fé. Mr. Prince did an admirable job of keeping the chaotic story on track, but the show kept running into roadblocks of its own making as Candide and his traveling companions girdled the globe in search of universal truth. Scenes, sets and costumes changed quickly, with platforms, flies and scrims rising and falling like the hero's fickle fortunes.

As Candide, tenor Jay Armstrong Johnson seemed caught between the challenge of singing opera and his theater and television background. Nonetheless, there is a gormless charm to his stage presence, a quality of fresh-faced innocence which is just what the character needed. As the loving but notoriously promiscuous Cunegonde, the soubrette soprano Meghan Picerno banged off the murderously difficult "Glitter and be Gay" in Act I, hitting two of the three high E flats and otherwise dazzling the audience with here impressive, breathless coloratura. 

Gregg Edelman switched accents, costumes and wigs to double the roles of Voltaire himself (the show's sometimes befuddled narrator) and the (equally befuddled) natural philosopher and Dr. Pangloss. He also played four other minor roles. The veteran actress Linda Lavin had only one role to play: her grimaces and grunts as the Old Lady brought some of the evenings biggest laughs as she sang "I am easily assimilated."

Tenor Peter Kendall Clark and mezzo Jessica Tyler Wright completed many an ensemble as the dim-witted, cross-dressing Maximillian and the sexy Paquette, whose main function is to distract Pangloss from the shapely charms of Cunegonde. The robust supporting players were led by  Chip Zien and Brooks Ashkemansas. These two fine comics took on as many as five parts each, popping up as a series of villains and leading great numbers like the Act II "What's the Use?"

Under Charles Prince's direction, the orchestra was bright and chipper, pumping charm into the overture and giving the singers room to breathe. The hard-working ensemble players were game, but this new Candide did little to convince one of this show's ultimate worth. As a revival of a City Opera repertory piece to restore the fortunes of this once proud company, this is a commendable effort. However, (to use the best of all possible words) this show’s ultimate effect is one of sitting down for a satisfying meal and being served a double helping of lemon soufflé.

Trending on Superconductor


Share My Blog!

Share |

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

My photo

Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.