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Best of All Possible “Candide”s or not, NYCOpera’s New One Is Great Fun, with Heart
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   
photo by Sarah Shatz
Keith Phares, Jessica Tyler Wright, Linda Lavin, Jay Armstrong Johnson & Meghan Picerno
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The revived and reconstituted New York City Opera, headed by Michael Capasso, unveiled what is billed as a new production of Leonard Bernstein’s—and Hugh Wheeler, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, and John LaTouche’s—“Candide” (1956), after Voltaire, on January 6, for 10 performances, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, with some of the same forces—director Harold Prince, choreographer Patricia Birch, and designers Clarke Dunham (sets), Judith Dolan (costumes), and Ken Billington (lighting)—more or less recreating their classic ‘opera house version,’ with carnival, circus, and traveling show trappings, which served the company from 1982 to 2008. I caught the fourth performance, on January 8, and whether or not this is the best of all possible “Candide” renditions, it certainly ‘sings’ and entertains and moves the listener. The master director’s son, Charles Prince, presides in the pit and, as before, Arthur Masella is assistant director and Abe Jacob, the sound designer.
The winning romantic leads are theater and television’s Jay Armstrong Johnson, a boyish and lyrical Candide, with head voice at his disposal, and opera’s Meghan Picerno, the Cunegonde, who stops the show with her virtuoso high coloratura “Glitter and Be Gay.” Their duets, “Oh, Happy We,” “You Were Dead, You Know,” and the finale, are affecting. Broadway veterans Linda Lavin (“It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman,” “Broadway Bound,” television’s “Alice”) and Gregg Edelman (“City of Angels,” “1776,” “Into the Woods”) anchor the cast as, respectively, an Old Lady—“I Am Easily Assimilated”—with experience and presence, and a commanding and versatile Voltaire/Dr. Pangloss—inspiring his pupils in a bouncy “Best of All Possible Worlds”—/Governor of Cartegena, etc.. Polished operatic baritone Keith Phares and holdover-from-2008 Jessica Tyler Wright are the earthy Maximilian, Cunegonde’s brother, who, in drag, almost marries the Governor, and Paquette, their father, the Baron’s, favorite. Veteran Chip Zien (“Into the Woods,” “Falsettos’) and young Brooks Ashmanskas play multiple roles and their “What’s the Use” trio with Edelman, in the gambling scene in Constantinople, is a rollicking highlight. The pastoral “Sheep Song,” for white, not pink, woolly Leah Horowitz and Kat Liu, in El Dorado, is included, but “Quiet,” the fractious desert-island number for Candide, the Old Lady, and Paquette, is omitted, as is Pangloss’ “Dear Boy,” the ‘syphilis song.’ Wayne Hu, Sichel Claverie, and Peter Kendall Clark stand out in supporting roles, and the full ensemble makes memorable contributions to “What a Day (for an auto-da-fé)” and “Make Our Garden Grow,” the always-moving finale.
Remaining performances, at this writing, are slated for January 11, 12, and 13 at 7:30 p.m., January 14 at 2 and 8 p.m., and January 15 at 4 p.m. Visit www.nycopera.com for further information.

 

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