Candide, or Optimism, was first published anonymously in 1759 by Voltaire, constituting the French satirist’s response to the tragedy of an earthquake that practically destroyed Lisbon, and questioning the prevailing philosophy of the time that we live in “the best of all possible worlds.”
Voltaire’s message was just as relevant in the 1950s, when Leonard Bernstein turned the novel into an operetta in collaboration with Lillian Hellman, John LaTouche, and Richard Wilbur; and Candide continues to be a touchstone for comic opera today.
Oberlin Opera Theater presents the production from Thursday, March 9 through Sunday, March 12. The production is double cast, with one cast performing on Thursday and Saturday, and another cast on Friday and Sunday.
In the opera, the hapless Candide studies under the tutelage of Dr. Pangloss, a philosopher expounding on the ideals that all that exists must be for the good. After being banished from the “best of all possible houses” in the country of Westphalia—where he was to be married to his betrothed, Cunegonde—Candide follows a winding series of misadventures that might not follow from Pangloss’ optimistic philosophy: the supposed deaths of both Pangloss and Cunegonde; the trials of the Inquisition; a disastrous earthquake; and a good measure of double-crossings.
Candide balances many dualities: hope and tragedy, a foreboding political message conveyed with a witty and playful tone, and existing both as a masterful operetta and a satire of one. The piece incorporates influences from Mozart to Gilbert and Sullivan, blending them into Bernstein's unique musical style.
Director Jonathon Field shares, “Candide is one of Leonard Bernstein's finer works. It’s a piece that transmits both hope and irony, and shows us the remarkable strength of the human spirit. It is a piece that is more of a musical than an opera, and it’s brought to life by our remarkable cast and production staff.”
The team that has prepared Oberlin singers for this production includes conductor Raphael Jiménez, guest choreographer Colette Boudreaux, opera coach Kyung-Eun Na, and voice professor Mathilda Edge, who assisted the singers in their diction.
Edge shares, “It was such fun to work with the casts of Candide on this production! They each came to their English diction coachings with their own creative ideas and understandings about who their characters are and how that might be portrayed through their English dialects and accents.”
This production will be Field’s final one at Oberlin, as he will retire at the end of this academic year. Over his notable career, Field has directed many operas—at Oberlin and with professional companies including Lyric Opera Cleveland, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theatre, and the Arizona Opera.
At Oberlin, Field created ways to give students experiences on the leading edge of opera performance. He directed the American premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s Lost Highway, based on the David Lynch film of the same name, in a collaboration between Oberlin's Division of Contemporary Music and New York City’s Miller Theatre. He also directed the world premiere of the jazz opera Leave Me Alone, in partnership between Oberlin and Real Time Opera—and significant for being one of the first productions to be broadcast on the Internet. Field was also an early pioneer of implementing projections as an integral part of operatic sets, an idea that is now ubiquitous across contemporary opera stages.
Bernstein’s masterpiece went through a nearly forty-year-long creative process, beginning with the original Broadway production in 1956 to a fifth and final version in 1989 completed less than a year before the composer’s death in 1990. Oberlin will perform the 1988 Scottish Opera House version that includes additions to the libretto from Stephen Sondheim.
Reflecting on his career at Oberlin, Field shares, "While here I have tried to teach my students both creativity and endurance, so that they can imagine what they want to become, and have the tenacity to achieve it. Candide has helped all of us work on those things."
Oberlin Opera Theater performs on the campus of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Hall Auditorium. The four-performance run of opens at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 9 with evening performances on Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11. A 2:00 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 12 closes the production. General admission tickets are $10; $8 for students.
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