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Marin Alsop

Garnett Bruce

Judy Kaye

Though Leonard Bernstein originally wrote Candide in the 1950s, with a book by playwright Lillian Hellman, the operetta has gone through many versions with multiple writers to get to its current form, with a book by Hugh Wheeler (who was also librettist for the Stephen Sondheim musicals Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music). Marin Alsop first saw Candide in 1973. “It was wonderfully absurd while being completely moving,” she recalls. She has since conducted it, most notably in a 2004 production with the New York Philharmonic featuring Patti Lupone, Kristin Chenoweth, Paul Groves, and British baritone Sir Thomas Allen as Pangloss and as the narrator Voltaire. The story begins with Candide offending his baron uncle, the Duke of Westphalia, by kissing the baron’s daughter, Cunegonde. Banished from the castle, Candide is immediately kidnapped by soldiers. He escapes and is joined by the tutor Pangloss—known for his blind optimism, an attitude Voltaire clearly disdains. The two travel across the globe, caught up in one disaster after another, including a shipwreck, an earthquake, Marin and an encounter with the Spanish Inquisition. Candide is eventually reunited with his love, thanks to the efforts of Cunegonde’s former maid, the Old Lady. In the closing number of the Bernstein/Wheeler version, “Make Our Garden Grow,” Candide and Cunegonde eschew the Panglossian optimism, embracing instead a realistic approach to their life together. Cunegonde sings: “I thought the world was sugar cake, for so our master said. But now I’ll teach my hands to bake our loaf of daily bread.” The message is not that everything happens for the best, says Bruce, “rather, it is that we actually control our destinies. We have to make the effort to do the best we know…to grow our gardens.” The garden theme is a Bernstein favorite, says Bruce. In fact, the

director wrote an undergraduate thesis at Tufts University about “garden imagery in Bernstein’s theater works.” (see sidebar) The garden, he says, represents the dream of a better world, and Bernstein’s question is, “How do we get there?” For Judy Kaye, Bernstein’s Candide “emphasizes the laughter.” Kaye, who will play the Old Lady in the BSO production, points out, “That’s a good way to take a bitter pill sometimes. With a big old soda pop.” Kaye is looking forward to working with Alsop, whom she first met in New York in the 1980s. Alsop invited Kaye to perform with the Concordia Symphony Orchestra, the Maestra’s ensemble dedicated to a “crossover” repertoire of jazz and contemporary music. Kaye remembers how Alsop “called me one day and said, ‘I’ve emptied my bank account and started an orchestra. Would you do a concert?’ That led to a bunch of concerts,” Kaye recalls. Among other collaborations with Alsop, Kaye played the part of Dinah in Concordia’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti broadcast on BRAVO with Alsop conducting. Garnett Bruce worked with Kaye at the Sante Fe Opera, and she also headlined in a Bernstein gala he directed at the Aspen Music Festival & School. The BSO’s Candide “is going to be a wonderful reunion,” Kaye predicts. Bruce plans to stage the production in and around the orchestra, with the major set piece an overhead map to show the journey. He envisions the details fading as the show concludes. “I’ve asked them to dissolve all the political quarters, so at the end we see the topographical earth we all share,” he explains. Dialogue will be trimmed from the stage verAlsop sion, Bruce says, with the gaps filled in by a narrator, who will “help us connect to the various places in the story, whether it be Paris, Lisbon, Montevideo.” In the same way, with an orchestra sharing the stage with actors, the set must be spare. “We’ve invited all this mayhem into a concert hall,” he says. “The musicians are involved in the humor and sense of delight.” Mayhem in the music hall doesn’t bother Alsop, or the musicians, in the least. While actors move around, and sometimes within, the orchestra, Alsop points out, “They’re not creating havoc, they’re following meticulous direction.” The musicians, she says, “are completely up for this type of approach because it integrates them into the action. It’s great fun.”

Gr ant Lei ghto n (al so p); Dale H eise(B ru ce )

“It was wonderfully absurd while being completely moving.”

Bernstein’s Garden “Gardens,” says Garnett Bruce, “seem to be

a peaceful—even mythical—refuge in Bernstein’s work.” In Trouble in Tahiti (1952), he says, “Dinah dreams of a garden where ‘love will lead us to a quiet place.’ An offstage voice lifts the feuding gangs of West Side Story (1957) out of the ghetto for a moment, singing, ‘Somewhere … there’s a place for us.’”

While Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte “saw the gardens as chaos and confusion where the old world hierarchies fall apart,” says Bruce, “Bernstein finds peace away from a chaotic world.” When the garden theme comes into play, Bruce points out, “Gentle harmonies counterbalance the dissonance and pounding rhythm of a harsher world.”

The garden theme is apparent in Candide. “After the whirlwind of bad luck, missed opportunities, war, shipwrecks, earthquakes, and disease in Candide, our title character finishes his travels by cultivating his own garden.” Candide sings: “We’ll do the best we know; we’ll build our house and chop our wood, and make our garden grow.”

March– April 2015 |

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