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Following the overwhelming success of his raw and powerful production of West Side Story, director Barrie Kosky brings Leonard Bernstein’s lesser known comic operetta Candide to the stage, a work that truly seems to defy categorization. The fast-paced Voltaire opera musical centers around the question »Why do bad things happen to good people?« and is at once a wild road trip, satirical philosophy lesson, and declaration of love for the history of European music.
After the exposure of his illicit love affair with the baroness Cunegonde, the not quite noble-born Candide is abruptly obliged to quit the place of his birth. Unfazed and unsuspecting, he begins a journey around the world inspired by Dr. Pangloss’s straightforward motto: this world is the only world and therefore the best of all possible worlds. Nevertheless, while travelling from Bulgaria to Lisbon and Paraguay to Venice, Candide encounters nothing but hair-raising atrocities and natural disasters: war, prostitution, slavery, earthquakes, and an assortment of murders. From the stabbing of a promiscuous grand inquisitor, to the hanging and resurrection of a philosopher, Candide’s path is strewn with the bizarre characters, both dead and undead, that make up his miraculous journey. Yet driven by an invincible optimism, nothing will bring him to stray from his belief in the good and love for Cunegonde. Finally, after countless adventures around the globe, Candide is reunited with his sweetheart – but after everything he’s experienced, what remains of his once starry-eyed love?
The iconic French philosopher Voltaire penned the satirical novella Candide ou l’Optimisme in 1759, creating a milestone in the European Enlightenment. With his sharp tongue and keen eye, Voltaire criticized the world-affirming doctrines of German philosophers Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Christian Wolff. Exceptionally difficult material for a musical, which Leonard Bernstein took on directly after his first Broadway success in 1953. While West Side Story – composed nearly at the same time – is American to the core, Candide is considered to be an expression of Bernstein’s love for European music. Having gone through many variations, a version of the comic operetta from the late 1990s captures Voltaire’s incisive humor and brings Bernstein’s electrifying music to fruition. Barrie Kosky’s production, with over 800 costumes on a nearly empty stage, draws a wild parallel between the Enlightenment and the present day. Bittersweet, irresistible entertainment – more relevant than ever!
Comic operetta in two acts by Leonard Bernstein [1956/1999]
Royal National Theatre version (full orchestration)
Book by Hugh Wheeler, based on Voltaire's novella Candide, ou l’Optimisme
Adapted by John Caird
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein
Orchestration by Leonard Bernstein and Hershey Kay
Additional orchestration by Bruce Coughlin
German translation by Martin G. Berger