It would be a pity if Jean-Luc Choplin’s reign at the Châtelet were to be associated with unsubtle amplification but this is the second production in his first season to bombard our ears with shrill, disembodied noise. Cunegonde’s Glitter and be gay, despatched by petite but energetic Anna Christy, had the needle-sharp projection of an LP running at 45rpm; the orchestra crashed through the overture and blurred the frequent parodies; as Candide, William Burden’s normally attractive, light tenor could have filled the Tuileries gardens.
Ah, says the defence, Broadway musicals are always miked these days. But is Bernstein’s score a musical or a comic opera? It sits uneasily between the two and requires both kinds of voices. And its structure – a medley of sketches relating Candide’s various misfortunes – lacks dramatic development. No wonder the piece went through so many revisions.
Robert Carsen’s extravagant new staging – co-produced with English National Opera and La Scala – is yet another version. He and Ian Burton have updated the story to 1950s America, rewritten the dialogue so that Westphalia becomes “West- failure” with a backdrop of the White House, reshuffled the songs so the good ones are spread evenly between the two acts and turned the five kings into an achingly funny G5 relaxing on an oil slick. The action takes place within a TV (ingenious sets by Michael Levine at his very best), zapping from one scene to another, from one marvellous costume (Buki Shiff, unbeatable) to another.
Visually, it’s a tour de force, another slick, ultra- professional product from Carsen, though the satire is affectionate rather than biting. But Carsen can’t ward off saturation. And Lambert Wilson’s tedious narration (in French) as Voltaire the compere hits the wrong, unfunny note from the start. He’s so much better as Pangloss even if he struggles to turn his British accent into a Yankee twang.
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