Candide in Financial Times

Geplaatst op 29 dec 2009

Candide in Financial Times

It takes guts to produce a new Candide only a few years after the huge success of Robert Carsen's sophisticated version for Paris (Châtelet) and London. Carsen sent up contemporary US values and spineless heads of state just as Bernstein and team were gunning for the establishment zealots in the post-McCarthy era. Lowery waters down the political relevance, taking a much softer view, rather as if the intention was to produce a Christmas show for all the family. It may rain dummy corpses during the earthquake, but the bon enfant tone is established by the single set, a segment of a planet straight out of Le petit prince . The mad chick is part of the childish fun along with other priceless gags like a pas de deux for lavatories.

Lowery does not always iron over the awkward gaps in a work that is an uneven parade of sketches but his Monty Python approach keeps a smile on our faces throughout. Where the production easily outclasses Carsen's Candide is in its simple but unabashed assumption of Bernstein's concluding sentimental vein and especially in its musical approach. The Châtelet fried our brains with screechy amplification. Apart from a radio mast narration, Antwerp does without and the effect is pure magic.

Hats off to casting: Michael Spyres' lovable Candide treats the music like Mozart, blending a gorgeous light tenor with premium diction; Jane Archibald's Cunegonde picks off the stratospheric notes with perfect marksmanship. Graham Valentine's extraordinary Pangloss, all edgily projected vowels and super sibilant s's, sounds like a resuscitation of the great Max Adrian who created the role. Veterans Karan Armstrong (the old lady) and Keith Lewis as the governor have the time of their lives.

Yannis Pouspourikas, the conductor, lets rip in a punchy account of the overture but deftly engineers a smooth cushion of sound when the singers are in action. Orchestra and chorus are excellent and the whole enterprise is an object lesson in how to sing musicals au naturel . ****

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