Toronto Operetta Theatre has tackled Candide, Leonard Bernstein’s comic operetta, in honour of the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It is a tough piece to produce with its large cast, some difficult numbers and a fast-changing episodic structure but the result is highly commendable.
The operetta is of course based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella which takes powerful satirical aim at the philosophy of optimism, war, the church, power, money and morality in general.
Candide (Tonatiuh Abrego) is a happy young man taught but his teacher Dr. Pangloss (Nicholas Borg) that he is living, in the words of the song, in “The Best Of All Possible Worlds” and everything happens for the good. That world comes crashing down when Candide is caught fooling around with The Baron’s (Edward Larocque) daughter Cunegonde (Vania Lisbeth Chan) and is thrown out of the castle by him.
Vania Lisbeth Chan, Elizabeth Beeler and Tonatiuh Abrego. Photo: Gary Beechey
Candide, Cunegonde and Pangloss embark on an episodic journey that takes them across Europe to the New World and back. On the way they encounter, rape, murder, torture, massacres and immorality on a frightful scale.
Guillermo Silva Marin, the TOT’s General Director, gives us a fine-tuned production that moves effectively from one scene to the next and makes good use of the limited scenic resources.
Soprano Vania Lisbeth Chan does superb work as Cunegonde. She has a lovely and agile coloratura voice and gives us a perky and delightful Cunegonde. She has the tough but splendid aria “Glitter and be gay” to conquer with its high notes and flourishes and she handles it with aplomb.
Tenor Tonatiuh Abrego makes an innocent and attractive Candide with sound singing and stage presence. Baritone Nicholas Borg plays Voltaire, Pangloss and Martin and takes advantage of displaying his vocal and acting abilities to good effect. He sings in a number of arias with other characters and does an especially good job in “Words! Words! Words!” as the pessimist Martin. Both Tonatiuh and Borg are young singers and we should be seeing much more of them in the future.
Nicholas Borg as Pangloss, Tonatiuh Abrego as Candide and
Patrick Bowman as Maximilian. Photo: Gary Beechey
Soprano Elizabeth Beeler deserves credit for her verve and fine acting as The Old Lady. There are considerable demands on her vocal chords as well (“We Are Women,” “I am easily assimilated”) and she does respectable work.
There are quite a few issues with accents and enunciation as the main characters encounter people from other countries.
The sixteen-member chorus used a number of soloists to fill its ranks and did rousing work despite some rough patches on the way.
The 13-member orchestra conducted by Derek Bate played with vigour under rough conditions. If you did not bother counting them. Their playing ability far outdid their numerical strength.
The operetta was done on pretty much a bare stage with a few props brought on as necessary. The set and lighting were designed by Silva-Marin.
Candide has gone through a large number of changes from the time it opened in 1956. Lillian Hellman wrote the book and Richard Wilbur did most of the lyrics for the original production with “other lyrics” by John Latouche and Dorothy Parker according to the first published version in 1957. Hellman and Bernstein also contributed lyrics. Later Hugh Wheeler wrote a new book replacing Hellman’s script and Stephen Sondheim added some lyrics.
There are many brilliant spots in Candide but I find it difficult to love and in some cases even to warm up to the operetta. Be that as it may, I enjoyed TOT’s production.
Speaking of Toronto Operetta Theatre we can crib a phrase from the operetta and describe it as “the best operetta company in Toronto”. The description applies but unfortunate TOT is also the ONLY operetta company in Toronto. (Go ahead correct me.) It is forced to perform in the small and inadequate Jane Mallett Theatre and that is no way to satisfy operetta lovers or build up an audience. Where is funding for the arts in a city that has pretentions to being a world-class cultural centre?