Encore Michigan

MOT’s ‘Candide’ sparkles with phun and philosophy

Review March 11, 2019 Julie Linderleaf

DETROIT, Mich.–Candide might just be the very first story where the protagonist should have just yelled, “Bring it on!” to an overt barrage of extremely negative and harrowing life experiences. The original satirical novella written by Voltaire in 1759, turned into a operetta by Leonard Bernstein in 1959 and revived a number of times, is part of a celebration of the late composer Bernstein’s centenary with a optimistic performance with artists from the Michigan Opera Theatre Studio.

The opera book and story originally by Hugh Wheeler and adapted in this new version by John Caird is true to the classic novella. It follows the life of Candide (Michael Day), a young WestPhalian with questionable parentage who falls in love with his cousin Cunegonde (Monica Dewey). Even though the castle occupants are taught through the song that “Life is Happiness Indeed” and that everything happens for a reason, the first tragedy strikes Candide just after the cousins are caught in love’s embrace. Candide is immediately ejected from the castle and forced to live on his own. Thus starts the world trail of trials of Candide trying to see the optimistic sides to war, murder, theft, torture, disasters, love and
loss.

The comic operetta is being performed on the stage in a very minimalistic way: A table, a bench, a chest or two, and couple of chairs get moved around and used in various ways. A desk is positioned on stage right for the author Voltaire, the narrator to the story. The musicians, conductor, and extra risers are also on the stage. Dramatic Flag changes are used to help keep track of the multitude of scenes changes in the story that map all over the world. The minimalist set also makes sense for a show playing
in two venues: both The Macomb Center for Performing Arts March 9 and 10 as well as the Berman Center on March 16 and 17.

It is an Opera: the songs and performers are stars of the show, right? This production is focusing more on the music than the acting, often incorporating the conductor (Daniel Black) into the scenes since he is directly center stage. The music and vocal performances combined beautifully to make Bernstein proud in his 100th year.

Richard Marlatt portrays Volitare, the original author of the novella Candide, with a fun foppish nature. He is the only one in a traditional 18th century costume–the long powdered white wig, knickers, tights and proper tails. The chorus is aptly dressed all in white and make constant small costume
additions like head garland flowers, jackets, or draped fabric for the different location villagers they need to portray. All other costumes are random, sometimes combining modern attire with attempts at period pieces. Cunegonde even sings about how expensive her wardrobe in the song, “Glitter
and be gay,” while wearing only a bedazzled bustier and a petticoat.

Candide is a comic operetta and does have a lot of laughable, fun moments: the pink sheep, nerf gun ship wars, Martin the Pessimistic street sweeper (David Moan) and his vacuum cleaner, the old lady (Katherine DeYoung) and her one buttock. Ms. DeYoung, A Traverse City native, seems to generate the most laughs with her unplaceable accent and tragic life stories that make the audience wonder, “Is it all for the best?”

Fans of the original Candide story will not be disappointed to watch his search for his love and life across the globe. Opera fans will enjoy the wonderfully blended voices of the artists from the Michigan Opera Studio
and Michigan musicians.

See how they “Make our garden grow,” March 16 and 17 at the Berman Center.