Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (complete operetta)

by | Aug 10, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (complete operetta)

Paul Groves, Kristin Chenoweth, Patti LuPone, Sir Thomas Allen,
Westminster Symphonic Choir, New York Philharmonic cond. by Marin Alsop
Studio: Channel 13/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 widescreen
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1, Dolby 2.0 – English
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: *****

West Side Story is great but Candide has long been my favorite
Bernstein stage work. This is at least the eighth recording of it since
its 1956 Broadway premiere – and by the way the stereo CD of that with
the original Broadway cast (in spite of many cuts to fit it on a single
LP originally) is still great fun to hear. There is also the version on
DGG with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bernstein himself in
1989, in which he tried to “legitimize” the score, not entirely
successfully. But it does have Adolph Green as a wonderful Dr.
Pangloss, Jerry Hadley as Candide, and was even once available on
laserdisc – though it appears not to have been transferred to
DVD.  The LP set won a Grammy for Best Classical Album of the Year.

Voltaire’s mini-novel about an innocent young man’s trip thru a life of
interesting characters and horrible experiences was enlarged by
Bernstein with the assistance of such notable lyricists are Lillian
Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Stephen Sondheim. Stimulated by
philosophical questions posed by a devastating Lisbon earthquake in the
18th century, Voltaire was actually satirizing a philosophy of the
period which proposed that everything – no matter how awful – “was
always for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

The Bernstein-led laserdisc production was a live concert performance,
and so is this new production.  But what a difference in
approach!  The recent San Francisco Opera staging of Sweeney Todd
made imaginative use of costumes and ramps thru the orchestra, but this
Candide does even more with the concert presentation than you might
expect. I can’t imagine a fully staged version would be any the
better!  Members from the large chorus are costumed as various bit
players in the operetta, including two of them crawling on their knees
as lambs laden with gold when Candide is leaving El Dorado. Even
conductor Alsop gets into the act – as the various characters move
around her on the stage we see her singing right along with them. 
And various important settings or incidents – such as the earthquake –
are displayed by the chorus members each holding up their portion of a
huge sign or design. The stage business is sparked by hilarious
anachronisms: When Candide is packing to leave Westphalia, he throws
into his modern carryon suitcase first a catcher’s mitt, then a
Frisbee, and finally an LP of West Side Story!  The lyrics, which
have been amended here and there in the various stagings of the
operetta, are brought up to the 21st century in several places. For
example, Dr. Pangloss takes time to explain how different things were
back in Voltaire’s time: There were all these different religions and
nationalities fighting and killing each other over nothing; “but of
course I understand that would be difficult for those of you today to
comprehend…”

The three leads are perfect in their roles. Paul Groves has a strong
voice and very clear diction, and his acting abilities eclipse those of
Jerry Hadley in the Bernstein production. Kristin Chenoweth is the most
attractive combination of a gorgeous soprano voice and appearance with
superb skills as a comedienne.  Her all-stops-out Glitter And Be
Gay aria outshines any by anyone else. Patti LuPone is the biggest name
here, and does a fine job of the Old Lady, though her diction on some
songs could be a little clearer. It was only with her that I was
occasionally wishing for subtitles or a printed libretto – which is not
supplied. (For example, I’m still not exactly certain how it was that
she “lost the half of her backside,” which she constantly refers to.)
The camerawork is also superb, especially considering that this was all
taped live during a single performance at Lincoln Center – due to the
full schedules of some of the performers.  Sometimes there will be
just one word in a song for which the performer makes a face, and at
that instant it cuts to an in-focus closeup of their face, right on
cue. I only noticed one quick soft-focus shot.  The color is
vibrant and the lighting never suffers even though it is a live stage
presentation.  The DTS sound is also a strong factor in bringing
across the brilliance of the music and words. This has got to be the
best possible production in this world of my favorite stage musical
work.

– John Sunier
 

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