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December 8, 2013 9:03 pm
France’s provincial opera houses run on much tighter budgets than theatres in the capital but afford chances to hear up-and-coming singers in human-size spaces. Nancy is an excellent example so hopes were high for this new Candide, staged by Sam Brown and team, who made their house debuts last season with a highly polished production of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest .
For various reasons, the production falls slightly short. Candide, admittedly, is a tough proposition, a musical posing as an operetta that fields an impressive gallery of characters in a sequence of sketches. Bernstein revised it several times, coming up with a final version in 1988, more than 30 years after its first performance. Even so, the second half in particular still feels like a work in progress.
What it really requires is a Pangloss with rapier projection to get his narration across the orchestral accompaniment and tie the scenes together. A larger theatre would have had no qualms about resorting to amplification. Nancy bravely does without but Michael Simkins’ genial Pangloss often struggles to be heard. Graham Valentine’s highly sibilant performance a few seasons ago in Antwerp made a much bigger impression in the same conditions.
Brown’s production is a festival of gags – the audience loved it – but also overdoses on its critique of US optimism by setting every scene in America. We start and finish in an Amish community. Place names are no problem – Paris becomes Paris, Texas, and Venice Beach replaces Venice – but the switch takes the bite out of the text and induces a certain monotony in atmosphere.
The Americans in the cast are in their element. Chad Shelton is on form as the lovable, accident-proof Candide, although the voice tends to reediness in quieter passages. Kevin Greenlaw’s chameleon Maximilian dons various disguises, including a stunning drag queen appearance. Among the Brit contingent, Beverly Klein’s Old Lady – voice in shreds but personality throbbing – steals the show with a superb imitation of brash Brooklyn vowels, a contrast with Ida Falk Winland from Sweden, whose Cunegonde is poor on words. Her big number “Glitter and Be Gay” has all the notes but comes across as a vocalise.
In the young hopefuls category, Richard Burkhard and Charles Rice provide solid support in a number of roles. And Ryan McAdams conducts with idiomatic energy and style, stressing the asperities in the score. The orchestra flirts with disaster in the overture but then rises to the challenge.
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