Sunday, August 26, 2012

London Symphony Orchestra: Candide Overture

The London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bersnstein conducting, performs the Overture from Candide at London's Babican Centre on December 13, 1989. The operetta, composed by Bernstein [1918-1990], is based on Voltaire's novel of the same name. [This is a clip from Deutsche Grammophon released on a DVD (2006; 147 min.)]. This performance stars Jerry Hadley as Candide, June Anderson as Cunegonde, Christa Ludwig as the Old Lady, and Adolph Green as Dr. Pangloss.


When Candide was first performed in 1956, the original libretto was written by Lillian Hellman; since 1974, however, it has been performed from Hugh Wheeler's book adaption of Voltaire, which is generally more faithful to Voltaire's novel. The primary lyricist is the poet Richard Wilbur, and there have been other contributors such as Stephen Sondheim, John Wells and John LaTouche. The work has a long history of rewrites, or adaptations; this speaks of the difficulty of capturing Voltaire's voice and making it relevant for modern audiences.

It was met with a poor response when it opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956; the general consensus was there was a mismatch between the gay music of Bernstein and the seriousness and earnestness of Hellman's libretto. In a New York Times article, John Rockwell writes:
''Candide'' opened on Broadway in 1956 and lasted for only 73 performances. The problem was apparently the clash between Lillian Hellman's earnest book and the cheerier Bernstein music and attendant lyrics. Hal Prince revived the score in 1973 with a stripped-down orchestration, a brand-new book by Hugh Wheeler and additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This proved so successful in Brooklyn that it moved on to Broadway, where it ran for 740 performances.
Of course, with all due respect to Hal Prince's production skills, it's still Bernstein's music that carries it forward.


  1. CANDIDE is the best opera composed in the second half of the 20th century. I don't think of it as an operetta, since it has no spoken lines. But by 20th-century standards, many people think it can't be an opera since it's not ugly enough.


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