Welsh National Opera until July 15.
Composer: Leonard Bernstein.
Director James Bonas.
Cast: Ed Lyon, Claudia Boyle, Gillian Bevan, Mark Nathan, Madeleine Shaw, Aled Hall, Francesca Saracino, Dafydd Allen, Fiona Harrison-Wolfe, Helen Greenaway, Michael Clifton-Thompson, Alastair Moore, Martin Lloyd, George Newton-Fitzgerald, Sarah Pope, Stephen Wells, Stella Woodman, Alun Rhys-Jenkins, Gareth Dafydd Morris, Angharad Morgan, Adam Music, Julian Boyce, Ben Anderson, Michael Kirby, Joshua Lear, Vivian Gayle.
Costume Designer Nathalie Pallandre.
Video and animations: Grégoire Pont.
Too messy, too long, too anti-semitic, too misogynistic: there are many reasons to avoid Bernstein’s Candide.
And yet, director James Bonas and the Welsh National Opera bravely make a powerful case for staging this attack on the depravity of those in power and the futility of war. In our polarised times, just as in 1950s America and Voltaire’s 18th-century France, philosophy is unable to provide an answer to make us feel better about it all even if we dash across the world in pursuit of meaning.
The musicality of a resounding cast, led by tenor Ed Lyon as Candide and Claudia Boyle as Cunégonde, both in superb voice, alone and together, is the greatest justification.
Grégoire Pont’s animations, which magically appear on a screen that separates the cast from the on-stage orchestra, also lend coherence and play up the satire.
The best of all possible Schloss, the heat of battle, the Spanish Inquisition, the skyline of Paris and the appealing sheep of Eldorado all loom among performers as they rebound, like cartoon characters, from rape, torture and even death.
Nathalie Pallandre’s costumes, with more than a hint of Vivienne Westwood, add to the felicity. Workers in high-viz, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, as parodies of ladies’ maids, dress Cunégonde as she repeatedly hits the high notes, and sex workers in Constantinople strut in towering heels and bondage gear.
The break-neck pace of Lonny Price’s curtailed version further helps to accommodate what we might otherwise dismiss as merely crazed, with the possible exception of the single buttock of the Old Woman (played with a ludicrously heavy accent by Madeleine Shaw) that is in danger of being just too bizarre.
Ultimately, we tolerate, forgive, accept that too as finding the best of all possible versions is a matter of honest hard work and, in this case, true talent.
Barbara Lewis © 2023.