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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Candide - Not the Best of All Possible Presentations

Candide on paper looked like the perfect opera to revive for New York City Opera's "Renaissance." The old NYCO's Hal Prince production (adapted from his Broadway version) was one of the company's glories. Bernstein's lovable operetta was a perfect fit for the uniquely American sensibilities of the company. So to bring back that wonderful production, with the same revered director supervising, well, that was the best of all possible worlds right?

Wrong. For one, the limits of the tiny Rose Theater made it necessary to scale down Hal Prince's production to what looked like the Dollar Store version. Same familiar circus-performers concept, but tiny, cheap drops that wrinkled and flapped, an awkward miking system that made the voices sound thin and inaudible but the set changes and stage movement ear-splitting, and a cast that was obviously under-rehearsed. Prince (and choreographer Patricia Birch) seem not to have gotten the memo however -- the tiny stage was filled with a full set of dancers and extras and all the stage business of his old production. I've seen a NYCO telecast of the original. In a full sized theater those effects are wonderful. Here it just looked like nonstop onstage traffic jams.

Things started poorly when the orchestra (led by Charles Prince) gave a bumpy, poorly coordinated and out of tune rendition of the famous overture. The cast had talent, but not the right sort of talent -- experienced Broadway actor Gregg Edelman (as Voltaire and the various other authority figures) forgot his lines in several instances. Sometimes he just shrugged it off, but one time he did the all-time most obvious "oops" stage trick -- simply turning the back to the audience and making a jazz hands gesture.

Meghan Picerno (Cunegonde) has a cute stage presence and comic timing, but not nearly enough voice for "Glitter and Be Gay." Note values were approximate, high notes came out either pipsqueak, flat, or not at all. At least the audience seems to have liked her. In the title role Jay Armstrong Johnson (who's done some great work in On The Town) sounded nervous and the miking was odd -- he faded in and out. It also sounds like he was trying to beef up his light, pleasant voice with an overly intrusive vibrato. Linda Lavin (Old Lady) finally brought a dose of old-school vaudevillian "We Need to Put On a SHOW!" mentality -- her line readings weren't subtle but at least you could tell this was a pro who knew how to put on a performance no matter the circumstance.

Other performers who acquitted themselves well in their roles: Jessica Tyler Wright was consistently cute and funny as Paquette, Chip Zien as the Jew who shares Cunegonde with the Grand Inquisitor (Brooks Ashmankis).

Gregg Edelmann, photo @ Tina Fineberg
But in the end I don't think it's the fault of the performers that this Candide was not even close to the best of all possible performances. They all have talent. The lack of rehearsal, preparation, venue, and (let's face it) funds was obvious. The opening night crowd was a real mink-and-champagne crowd but even for this fundraising group the presentation was careless -- Hal Prince didn't even come out for a curtain call. There was no speech by Michael Capasso about the importance of this production in NYCO history. If NYCO is truly going to have a Renaissance, they need to let that garden grow more so they can put on performances that don't come across as a pale imitation of the company they once were.

4 comments:

  1. The poor old New York City Opera can't seem to catch a break. Sad. I'm one of those who never liked Prince's original opera house production. It went on and on and on, and was saved only by its gorgeous score. I don't think anyone could match the original cast of singer/actors. I'd almost prefer it to be a concert performance such as the one with Kristin Chenoweth and Patti Lupone. But if this helps the NYCO get back on its feet, I'm all for it.

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    1. Well performances are selling well, so there's that.

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  2. "Bernstein's lovable operetta"

    But the operetta is in no way lovable. The characters are all cardboard thin (just the way Voltaire made them so he could ram his points home), and about halfway through the evening, you realize that you don't care a hoot what happens to any of them. Better to just close your eyes and listen to the music, if it's well performed.

    I enjoy your reviews tremendously.

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    1. Thank you. I disagree that Bernstein's operetta isn't lovable. I think the music is charming from first to last. Certainly the book has always had problems but it's a very fun musical work.

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