A Sparkling Musical Comedy Classic

Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 8 pm

Contains sexually suggestive references

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission

Composed by Leonard Bernstein. For more information on the composer go to www.leonardbernstein.com

Original libretto by Lillian Hellman
Based on French author, Voltaire's satirical masterpiece Candide, ou L'optimisme

"All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds."
- Leibniz, 18th-century philosopher

In one of the greatest operettas of our time, the innocent young Candide sets off on an incredible journey to experience the world. He and his friends survive an endless series of comic disasters, always continuing their optimistic search for the "best of all possible worlds." Candide is considered to be Bernstein's finest score.

View Full Synopsis »

The Story

In beautiful Westphalia, Candide, his cousin Cunegonde, her brother Maximilian, and the mad Paquette live a blissful life. Their teacher, Dr. Pangloss, has instilled in them the notion that all events, even bad ones, are for the best.

Determined to follow his instructor's creed of mindless optimism, after being banished from his homeland, Candide embarks on his search for life’s meaning and confronts arduous travel, grave misfortune, corrupt mankind, and merciless Nature. However, despite the changing tides of bliss and misery, optimism and pessimism, the hopeful Candide, along with his childhood love Cunegonde, commit themselves to the pursuit of "universal good."

Musical Highlights
"If ever I have seen it, the stuff of genius is here."
- Tyrone Guthrie on Candide
  • The tuneful and very popular overture which is often performed as a concert piece
  • Cundegonde's coloratura aria "Glitter and Be Gay" is a favourite showpiece for many sopranos
  • "I Am Easily Assimilated," the Old Lady’s tango, is considered the wittiest mezzo-soprano number in Broadway history
  • "Make Our Garden Grow," the final ensemble number.
Cast

Tadeusz Biernacki

Conductor

   

(In Alphabetical Order)

 

Theodore Baerg

Narrator/Dr. Pangloss

Lara Ciekiewicz

Paquette

Tracy Dahl

Cunegonde

Stuart Howe

Candide

Kurt Lehmann

Governor/Vanderdendur/Rogotoski

Doug MacNaughton

Maximilian/Alternate Narrator/Captain

Lynne McMurtry

The Old Lady

   

Also appearing:

 

Mel Braun 

Junkman/Inquisitor/King Hermann/Augustus

Peter John (P.J.) Buchan

Cosmetic Merchant/Inquisitor/Prince Charles

Sheldon Johnson

Doctor/Inquisitor/King Stanislaus

Derek Morphy

Bear Keeper/Inquisitor/Tsar Ivan

Victor Pankratz

Alchemist/Inquisitor/Sultan Achment/Crook


Candide Comments by Robert Vineberg

What Candide knew about Canada:

Voltaire’s novel, Candide, was published in 1759, the year of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the fall of Québec to the British. Late in the novel, Candide’s adventures take him to England, in the company of his ever optimistic tutor, Dr. Pangloss, and a very cynical fellow traveller, Martin, from Holland....

Candide: Vous connaissez l’Angleterre: y est-on aussi fou qu’en France?

Martin: C’est une autre espèce de folie; vous savez que ces deux nations sont en guerre pour quelques arpents de neige vers le Canada et qu’elles dépensent pour cette belle guerre beaucoup plus que tout le Canada ne vaut.

Translation:

Candide: Are you familiar with England? Are people as foolish there as in France?"

Martin: It is another kind of folly. You know that these two nations are at war for a few acres of snow in Canada, and that they are spending on this lovely little war much more than all of Canada is worth.

What was Voltaire trying to do?

Voltaire, in his satiric novel, Candide ou l’optimisme, sought to ridicule the philosophy of optimism espoused by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz that held that all is for the best because God is benevolent. Candide’s tutor, Dr. Pangloss was an unrepentent believer that, "Tout est pour le mieux dans le meilleur des mondes possibles" or "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds".

Candide is a short novel, less than 200 pages,  but it is packed with disaster after disaster. Voltaire apparently wrote Candide in three days. The world had just been shaken by the Great Lisbon earthquake of All Saints Day, November 1, 1755.  It may have been as strong as a Richter Scale 9 earthquake. It was followed by an enormous tsunami and then fires that burned throughout the city for days and days. As many as a fifth of Lisbon’s population, of perhaps 200,000, were killed by the quake and its aftermath.  The Seven Years War, the Inquisition, and the natural disasters that struck Lisbon made clear to Voltaire that this was not the “best of all possible worlds” and he wrote Candide to challenge that notion. And being the brilliant author he was, he took advantage of the real tragedies around him to make his story.

The Story:

In a nutshell, Candide is living happily in the castle of his uncle, the Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia. Their professor, Doctor Pangloss, instills in them the creed of optimism – that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Candide falls in love with the Baron’s lovely daughter Cunegonde. This sounds like it would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds, as the nobility often married close relatives in those days. There was one little problem, however. Candide was illegitimate and the Baron considered him beneath his beloved daughter so, for his effrontery, he expelled him from the castle.

Subsequently, Candide is press-ganged into the invading Bulgar army, which attacks and destroys the Baron’s castle. Everyone is killed, including Cunegonde, who dies after being brutally raped. Full of sadness, Candide roams on until he comes across the ever-optimistic Pangloss, who somehow survived the attack on the castle. Together they roam the world, succumbing to every possible disaster: earthquake, flood, fire, slavery, murder, robbery, and shipwreck to name a few.

In his travels, Candide meets up with Cunegonde, who has somehow survived the rape and murder in Westphalia to end up being the mistress of two different men. He then loses her and from time to time finds her again in various unsavoury situations, always trying to look after herself first.

Somehow, Voltaire brings everyone back together again in Westphalia – not however, in a castle, but on a small farm. Here, Candide considers his life. His illusions have been shattered, especially about the self-seeking Cunegonde. Dr. Pangloss continues irrationally to follow his creed of optimism. On the last page of the novel, he can still proclaim to Candide that:

Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possible, car enfin, si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de Mlle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis à l’inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu vos moutons du bons pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches.

Translation:

All these events are inextricably linked in this best of all possible worlds, for if you had not been booted out of a magnificent castle, kicked soundly in your rear end, all for the love of Miss Cunegonde; if you had not been put to the Inquisition; if you had not wandered on foot all over America; if you had not thrust your sword through the Baron; if you had not lost all your sheep from that fine country, El Dorado, you would not be here eating lemon preserves and pistachio nuts.)

As for Candide, he realises now that life is neither 'good' nor 'bad,' it is only what we each make of it that matters. He accepts Cunegonde for what she is and will, finally, marry her. And in the closing line of the novel, it is clear to the reader that Candide, finally, is no longer listening to Pangloss:

Cela est bien dit, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Translation :

Well said, but we must make our own garden grow.

Why did Leonard Bernstein put Candide to Music?

The 1950’s were a difficult time for anyone considered “left-leaning” in the United States. Senator Joseph McCarthy was the self-appointed commie cleanser of America. McCarthyism was rampant and all artists, composers, actors, writers, and painters were suspect. Many were being called before the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) to be bullied into confessing to be a communist and to denounce others, whether justifiably or not (which was most of the time).

Bernstein was encouraged by Lillian Hellman.  Hellman was one of the relatively few writers who stood up to McCarthy and HUAC.  She encouraged her friend Leonard Bernstein to set Voltaire’s Candide to music.  Just as Voltaire spoke out against the ideology and inquisitions of his day, someone had to stand up against the ideology and inquisition in post-war America.  As Bernstein wrote in the New York Times:

...the matters with which it is concerned are as valid for us in America, with its puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitory attitudes on the individual, brave-new-world optimism, essential superiority – aren’t these all the charges that are levelled against American society...?1

Bernstein was also poking fun at opera itself.  In her biography of Bernstein, Joan Peyser wrote that Candide was, “on the surface a comic operetta but in reality a sophisticated parody of opera.”2

Nonetheless, Bernstein did so with great music.  Tyrone Guthrie directed the first Broadway Candide and he wrote, in his memoirs, A life in the Theatre, that:

Bernstein’s facility and virtuosity are so dazzling that you are almost blinded, and fail to see the patient workmanship, the grinding application to duty which produces the gloss … if I have ever seen it, the stuff of genius is here.”3

Was Candide a Success?

Yes and no is the only answer, or perhaps: not at first, but definitely later. Candide opened on Broadway on December 1, 1956, but closed after 73 performances. On Broadway, this spelled disaster, but by the standard of opera, a run of 73 performances would be incredible. The original book by Hellman was considered too serious and not as witty as Voltaire’s original. The 1974 version included the re-writing of many of the lyrics and now is generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler, which is more faithful to Voltaire's original. The primary lyricist was Richard Wilbur, but other contributors included John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Stephen Sondheim. It is truly a work of New York’s artistic brain-trust of the era.

However, the music was an immediate hit, especially the overture. The work itself was reworked for the 1974 revival and again in 1989. In its later versions, Candide is definitely more operatic than it was at its Broadway premiere. In its current manifestation, it grows more popular as time goes by.

What was happening in Winnipeg in 1956:

  • The Canadian Football Council (forerunner of the CFL) was formed on January 22, 1956, in Winnipeg and the value of a touchdown was increased from five to six points.
  • The centre of the music community was the Civic Auditorium (now the Provincial Archives). The theatre community was enlivened by the first season of the Rainbow stage, with productions of Out Town, Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get our Gun and the Wizard of Oz, directed by John Hirsch. The Manitoba Theatre Centre was 2 years away from being founded in 1958.4
  • The centre of the music community was the Civic Auditorium (now the Provincial Archives).
  • The first major shopping centre was three years away and Portage Avenue still reigned as the place to shop and be seen in Winnipeg.
  • Communism had significant support in working class Winnipeg in the first part of the 20th Century and the north end elected communist city councilors and, even one MLA, William Kardash, who was defeated in 1958.  In 1956, the USSR had disclosed the genocidal behavior of Stalin’s purges and collectivization and support for communism started to wane in Winnipeg and throughout Canada.5

Notes

  1. Peyser, Joan, Bernstein, A Biography, Ballantine, New York, 1987, p. 227.
  2. Peyser, p. 225.3.
  3. Peyser, pp 228, 229.
  4. Encyclopedia of Manitoba – “Theatre”
  5. Encyclopedia of Manitoba – “Communism”

Perspectives by Rory Runnells

Oh, Really, and Whose Garden Were You Growing?

Rory Runnells

Candide advises us at the end of the novel and operetta that there is no harmony in the world, and that we must do the simple things in life to make it worthwhile: make our garden grow. That is the plea in many a satire after its bitter dissection, however crazy and outlandish, of the society we implicitly accept as, even if troubled, at least the best we have at the moment. However, there is always a nasty wink at that sentiment. Candide and his beloved settle down, but the stupidity, cupidity, ignorance, and willful blindness of the world settle down with them. There is always a Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s tutor, to put a pretty face on an ugly picture. In Life of Brian, Monty Python¹s version of the Gospels, we are urged, at the crucifixion of the wrong Messiah, to “keep on the sunny side of life.” In Dr. Strangelove, the brutal film about the height of the Cold War in the sixties, as the world goes up in nuclear flames, we are assured that “we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when...”

There is hate in satire, and innocence lost, and some wisdom found. Candide finds it; so does Gulliver in his travels. He discovers that he is a Yahoo after all. That is, he is human, and, as much as we like to think the virtues will triumph, we know, deep down, that the vices will shadow us, and often overcome our better selves.

From Aristophanes in the first comedies we have in Western theatre to The Colbert Report, satire keeps us in line. It isn’t on your side, though you may be laughing. As the great American critic, John Simon, wrote (referring to Monty Python), “It reeks of what may be prejudice but resounds with what is certainly laughter.”  It dares to offend in what it considers the pursuit of comic truth.

My favourite Marx Brothers’ film is Duck Soup, a satire on the military, and often a parody of film and theatre of the early thirties. Like all great satires, it is specific to its time, and you can pretend to get all the jokes, but it stands, as does Candide, firm in its wise, heartfelt skewering of human beings, and our eternal, confused condition. We can find today, in a different guise, what is satirized yesterday; you can’t get away from. At the end of Candide, Dr. Pangloss asks if there any questions left to ask. It won’t happen, but one could wish for Groucho to ask: Just whose garden are you growing, anyway?


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