The evolution of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide is better suited for a PhD thesis than a review. Palm Beach Opera is presenting the first full-staging of the adaptation created for the New York Philharmonic in 2004 by Lonny Price – part Hal Prince’s original and also embracing those for New York City Opera and Scottish Opera. For Jay Lesenger it is this hybrid version that finally captures the show’s sheer joy and wit, and David Stern leads an energetic reading while allowing lyrics to breathe.
Jerome Sirlin’s projections define locales, depict dynamic events and illustrate the action: such as when Candide is driven out of Westphalia a very realistic, three-dimensional forest is created into which he all but disappears, which makes ‘It Must Be So’ as he emerges all the more touching, and the raging-sea tossing Candide’s boat is vividly drawn. Michael Baumgarten’s lighting combines superbly to create a wide range of atmospheric effects, and Hallie Dufresne’s costumes are effective and suitably whimsical.
Miles Mykkanen’s bright voice and comic sensibility make him an appropriately ingenuous Candide. He evokes tenderness in ‘The Ballad of El Dorado’ and ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ and is delightful in duets with Alisa Jordheim’s Cunegonde, especially in their deliciously mismatched visions of married life in ‘O Happy We’, and leaves unexplained how she survived in ’You Were Dead, You Know’. Jordheim’s coloratura dazzles in ‘Glitter and Be Gay’.
The versatile Ron Raines is excellent as both Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss, singing resonantly in ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds’ and ‘Dear Boy’, and anchoring the plot with amusing narrations which, because the supertitles do not support the spoken dialogue, have to be, and are, delivered with ample volume and clarity; however there are other occasions when titles would be welcome. For the Venetian penultimate scene Raines appears as an extortionist in the hilarious quartet ‘What’s the Use?’ which also includes Denyce Graves as the Old Lady, bringing her prowess to ‘I Am Easily Assimilated’ and ‘Quiet’, an over-the-top portrayal of this outrageously disfigured character. Those singers in multiple roles also contribute greatly to the whole and the Chorus is excellent.