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Brevard Music Center is well into its summer rhythm now, yet it was a light audience that turned out for the BMC Janiec Opera Company's second production of the season. At the close of last season, the subscription base was invited to suggest program preferences for Artistic Director David Effron's final year at the helm. Therefore the four productions this year are Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (June 23), Lerner & Leowe's Camelot, repertoire staple La Bohème, and this production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide.
BMC Opera presents each work twice: the first is a public dress rehearsal and the second, the actual "show," which in this case is July 7. Director Vincent Liotta chose a cast of nine along with conductor Gerard Floriano's pit orchestra of 45 students and ten faculty for this mostly Lillian Hellman-based adaptation of Voltaire's 1759 satirical and philosophical brief Candide, or The Optimist.
Hellman suggested the concept to Leonard Bernstein in 1954, but this lofty genesis gave way to a troubled gestation. No fewer than five lyricists were involved, and the work was delayed while On The Waterfront and West Side Story were completed. Eventually the show opened on Broadway in December of '55 but then closed after 73 performances. Thereafter came many revisions and adjustments, including concert versions of the overture. In the end, a pressing question remains about exactly what this production is: an opera, a dinner show, a Broadway musical, or what? Most scholars classify the work as an operetta and leave it at that.
The BMC production is a rollicking good time exhibiting good humor, tremendous individual performances, and a wonderful orchestra. Sung in English with an old world map as backdrop, the cast takes us through Voltaire's quest for "the best of all possible worlds." The most humorous retort becomes, "Yes, to everything there is a season, but what about snakes?" From here we delve into the mysterious incongruities of human existence, always in search of the best and good. There are war, love, greed, earthquakes, heretics, sport sex, a New Testament vs. Old debate, a flogging, trips around the world, and a Paris Hilton character, in Paris of all places, displaying remarkably consistent character flaws 248 years earlier.
The cast consists of mezzo sopranos Zerrin Agabigum and Tara Curtis, baritones Sean Waugh, Matthew Opitz, and Joseph Lattanzi (as Dr. Pangloss), tenors Joseph Turro and Adam Ulrich, bass Daniel Osorio, and soprano Laura Stelman who, as Cunegonde, nails a first act leap of interval that only an antelope could appreciate. Her vocal work is one of the highlights.
There is remarkable utility to the scenery, blocking, acting, and signing. Economy seems the rule, and it works. While dress rehearsals are known for the occasional errant stage light, a hat falling off, an actor in the wrong place or even dropping lines, this production displayed very few obvious flaws. In fact, it is hard to identify things not intended if they were covered well by that crew. So this production has a very good beginning. The 21-member mixed chorus filled Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium.
Bernstein noted, "Puritanical snobbery, phony moralism, inquisitorial attacks on the individual, brave-new-world optimism, essential superiority – aren't these all charges leveled against American society by our best thinkers? And they are also charges made by Voltaire against his own society."
Imagine such behavior, after all these years?