Candide Review

The cast of Opera Company of Middlebury’s film of Bernstein’s “Candide” includes: from left, Quinn Bernegger as “Candide,” Cree Carrico as Cunegonde,” Heather Jones as Paquette and Blake Jennings as Maximilian.

MIDDLEBURY — Opera Company of Middlebury has entered the film business—– and with a glorious video production putting its own stamp on Leonard Bernstein’s enigmatic masterpiece “Candide.”

In addition to excellent soloists, orchestra, production values, and — of course —– unique dramatic staging by Douglas Anderson, the production boasts a witty narration by former Governor Jim Douglas.

Opera Company of Middlebury’s “Candide” is available online through the company’s YouTube channel June 15-30. Patrons will have access to the show for the duration of the run.

Very loosely based on Voltaire’s comic satire of optimism, the innocent Candide goes through a series of unlikely — even insanely so — misadventures in quest of pure love with his beloved Cunegonde. But she turns out to be not quite so pure, spending time as a courtesan in Paris, kept by a governor in South America, a prostitute in Venice — and yet her love for Candide never wavers.

This zany tale makes no attempt at realism, or even the possible. What holds it together — beautifully — is Bernstein’s brilliant music. This is genius.

When Opera Company of Middlebury’ planned production became impossible last fall, Anderson, the artistic director, decided to take a huge risk, both artistically and financially. Artistically, the resulting full-length film proved to be an unquestionable success. Financially? We’ll see.

Anderson’s first challenge was choosing a version. There were a bunch since the original 1956 Broadway production, each with a different group of librettists, but all with the same Bernstein music. Anderson chose the 1989 Scottish Opera Edition (heard in Bernstein’s own 1989 recording), a concert version with narration, and illustrated it with an almost comic book zaniness — and really works, from hilarious to deeply touching. It’s wonderfully entertaining.

No small part of the film’s dramatic success was tenor Quinn Bernegger’s irresistible Candide. His light lyrical tenor and earnest expressiveness resulted in a convincing innocent, and some heart-wrenching singing. He was contrasted by Cree Carrico’s canny Cunegonde, who managed her brilliant soprano from virginal to jaded to heart-broken and humble.

The acting throughout benefited from the singers’ comic sense. Baritone Joshua Jeremiah was a delightfully Dr. Pangloss to whom all turned for answers. Mezzo-piano Heather Jones was a delightful mix of comic and coloratura as the flighty Paquette. Baritone Blake Jennings was lyrical and dubious as her brother Maximilian.

Mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis was most versatile as the Old Lady, who guided Cunegonde through much of the fun (and joined in too). Tenor Joshua Collier (artistic director of Brandon’s Barn Opera) shared his delightful comic abilities with baritone Kian Freitas as various characters throughout.

And then there was Gov. Douglas. His deliciously wry narration alone is worth the price of admission.

Conductor Michael Sakir led the singers and excellent all-Vermont 30-member orchestra in a compelling and well-paced performance. The eight-voice all-Vermont chorus was particularly fine. The whole production was musically a joy.

Anderson’s staging and filming bears many similarities to Ingmar Bergman’s version of a staged production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” There is no attempt to mask the theater, but it is often masked with generous and sometimes surreal special effects that certainly add to the flavor. Tim Joy was responsible for the dramatically effective filming and editing.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the production was created in layers. First, the orchestra recorded the score. That was followed with the chorus adding its part while listening to the orchestra. Finally the cast (with ear buds) recorded their parts while performing. The result was pretty seamless.

Mary Longey was the executive producer, making everything happen. Deborah Anderson was responsible for delightful and expressive costuming. Neil Curtis designed the lighting, while Douglas Anderson was responsible for the scenic design.

Does Opera of Middlebury’s “Candide” have all the polish of a commercial feature film? Nope. Is it absolutely wonderful? Yes!

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