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Grab your passport and buckle up as State Opera South Australia and State Theatre Company South Australia take you on a fantastical journey around the world with Candide and his friends.

The work

Candide, a Tony and Olivier award winning golden age musical by Leonard Bernstein, is based on Voltaire’s satirical 1759 novel Candide, ou l’Optimisme (Candide, or all for the best).
A comic operetta, there isn’t a dull moment as dialogue combines with music and song to drive the narrative. It is erratic, fantastical, and fast-moving. It parodies adventure and romance clichés and slaps you around the face with a sharp look at reality.

The composer

Leonard Bernstein was an American conductor, composer and music educator. The eldest of three children, Bernstein was diagnosed with emphysema at a young age and was told by doctors that he would die by the time he was 35. Perhaps not taking this destiny lightly, he led a life full of drama, controversy and indulgence, burning the candle at both ends until his death in 1990. He was 72.

He married actress Felicia Montealegre in 1951 and they had three children together, however Bernstein had affairs with both men and women throughout his life and marriage. When Felicia was diagnosed with lung cancer, Bernstein cared for her until she passed in 1978 at their family home in Long Island.

As a composer, he wrote in many genres including symphonic and orchestral music, theatre and film. He was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra and was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He also led the Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic which were broadcast on CBS from 1958 to 1972.

What’s it all about?

Candide tells the story of naïve Candide who is taught by his tutor Dr Pangloss that everything that happens in the world is part of God’s plan and for the greater good (yeah right!). Candide, his love Cunegonde and their misfit band of friends are thrown into different realities to test this theory. As they encounter (a lot of) unpredictable challenges and disasters along the way, they learn to form their own opinions of the world and how they can make a difference.

There’s a whole lot of history

Candide has had as much drama off stage as it has on since it was first performed in 1956.

Voltaire – philosopher, free speech advocate and all-round cool guy – was anti-slavery and anti-Catholic church. He despised authority and recoiled at optimistic Enlightenment period beliefs. He took aim at hypocritical religious institutions and practices like torture and execution. Fair enough.

Candide is considered Voltaire’s masterpiece even though it was extremely scandalous for its time. Unsurprisingly the novel was banned for blasphemy and controversy. Voltaire would have been proud.

Fast forward 200 years to 1950s America. It is post-war. The world is recovering yet there is still a rawness and unease in the air.

Lillian Hellman, female playwright and communist, was drawn to Voltaire’s work as she recognised her own struggles with the US political system in the story. She decided the novel should be adapted into a musical (obviously) and set about writing the book for said musical. But she needed someone to write the music. Enter Leonard Bernstein. Legend.

Bernstein had his own troubles. He was Jewish and bi-sexual, and though he had emphysema he smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. He had his passport confiscated in 1953 when he was accused of being a communist sympathiser. Voltaire’s insubordinate undertones and rebellion against authority appealed.

And so, along with lyricists John La Touche, Richard Wilbur and Dorothy Parker, Candide was born. However, after its 1956 debut it received mediocre reviews. Hellman’s libretto was criticised for being too serious and political and jarred with Bernstein’s upbeat score. It only lasted for 73 performances before closing. Sad times.

But Bernstein didn’t give up – he had never written a failure before so why start now?! He parted ways with Hellman, much to her annoyance, and a series of rewrites and lyric updates were made including contributions from Bernstein’s wife Felicia Montealegre and Stephen Sondheim. The show was reborn and brought back to life (much like many of the characters in it!) with more synergy and precision. The Broadway revival was staged in 1973. Yay!

An undoubted success, more revivals followed in 1988 by Scottish Opera and another Broadway production in 1997. Candide continues to be one of the most performed golden age musicals today.

What are the themes?

Although it was written post World War II, the themes explored in Candide are just as relevant today. It is all about optimism versus cynicism and how we can find happiness in a world full of fate and disaster. On his journeys, Candide is smacked around again and again by humankind’s unkindness and struggles to maintain his belief in Pangloss’s philosophy.

Candide satirises religion, philosophy, cultural traditions, government and the military. Throughout the show we encounter war, rape, natural disaster, murder, heresy, hangings, inquisitions, prostitution, religious hypocrisy, syphilis, and golden sheep (…we told you to buckle up!).

Who’s who

Candide (Alexander Lewis)… young, naïve and about to learn some serious life lessons

Cunegonde (Annie Aitken)… a real tough cookie and Candide’s love

Dr Pangloss (Mitchell Butel)… based on Voltaire, Candide’s teacher and a philosopher

The Old Lady (Caroline O’Connor)… and Candide thinks he’s got it tough?!

Maximilian (Hans)… protective brother of Cunegonde, he and Candide don’t get on

Paquette (Taylah Johns)… Pangloss’s girlfriend who loves to give him special gifts

The music

The musical styles and choice of instruments throughout Candide change with each new location in which the travellers find themselves. Broadway, jazz, baroque, opera, tango and even influences of Bernstein’s classical hero Mahler can be heard throughout, cleverly depicting through music the different locations, cultures and events seen on stage.

The bangers

The Overture Possibly Bernstein’s most performed and recognised orchestral number, it is a delightful medley of tunes which are heard throughout the show. Check out Bernstein himself having the time of his life conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at a concert performance in 1989 (just one year before his death).

‘Glitter and be Gay’ One of the most popular showpieces for sopranos thanks to its intricate passages and fluctuating range. It requires extreme flair and control, the need for comedic timing and peaks in a high E flat! Cunegonde finds herself in Paris doted on by men and covered in jewels, but is she really happy?

‘Make our Garden Grow’ As Candide, disillusioned and despondent by his adventures, settles down with Cunegonde, they realise the only way to live happily in a world full of misery and disaster is to make the best of what they’ve got and grow and cultivate a life together. Grab the tissues…

What to watch

Maestro The Academy Award nominated film, written and directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, about the life of Leonard Bernstein and his relationship with his wife Felicia Montealegre.

West Side Story Bernstein’s most famous musical which he wrote at the same time as Candide.

Bernstein’s other hits including On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953) and the Marlon Brando film On the Waterfront (1954) for which Bernstein received an Academy Award nomination for writing the score.

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