Thursday, September 28

Candide – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Leonard Bernstein’s adaptation of Voltaire’s “Candide” has been through many revisions, reimagining and total overhauls since it first appeared back in 1956. Stephen Sondheim, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and British satirist, John Wells have all dabbled with the words and what emerges is less a committee-driven compromise, but a deft tapestry of differing styles and techniques blended together with Bernstein’s sublime compositions. From the first note of one of the most famous overtures in opera, the Welsh National Opera Orchestra- superbly conducted by Karen Kamensk – soars and whirls and twirls its way blissfully through this blistering score. It is a thrill to witness such a tight, controlled and vibrant orchestra playing at the top of its game.

If that were not enough a company of nearly thirty – when was the last time you saw that many on a stage? – enthral us with a vast array of characters and scenes from literally all walks of life.

Gillian Bevan as Pangloss is the narratological fulcrum around which it all pivots not only a leading character but also the narrator with more than enough on her shoulders and manages to retain a quick wit and light performance throughout. Claudia Boyle (as Cunegonde) is absolutely stunning both endearing, enchanting and handles her numbers with such finesse and elan. Candide is played by Ed Lyon who proves himself an excellent leading man with a sonorous voice and great comic timing. Mark Nathan as Maximillan gets a number of laughs with his comic performance and Madeleine Shaw as Old Lady has a cracking role which she grabs with both hands and makes us love her

Above all else what this production has is invention! Oodles of bright, vibrant ideas delighting us with the clever and witty manner in which they are deployed. Mostly of it comes from the back project. Usually, I’d sigh at seeing yet another screen instead of rendered scenery but in this case the Hirschfieldesque cartoons embellish the witty score and lyrics and add a whole new veneer of fun to proceedings which would never have been imagined in the fifties. Gregoire Pont who seems to have created these charming yet wacky images are credited as “Video and animations” which seems such a modest credit for a technique which lifts the production from good to outstandingly brilliant. Scenes move rapidly, actors walk through the scenery and all manner of bright and comic creations lend them self to the plot.

James Bonas masterfully brings this piece alive with such joi de vivre it’s almost impossible to resist its charms. This is what opera should be – electric, joyous and simply unadulterated fun.

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 12th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.