OPERA NEWS - Candide
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In Review > North America


Portland Opera

Candide, Leonard Bernstein's brilliant, untidy problem child, flaunted its musical strengths in Portland Opera's production (seen May 11 and 13), but its problematic structure, book and lyrics proved more than the company could handle in the hugely unsuitable, 2,992-seat Keller Auditorium. Portland Opera general director Christopher Mattaliano stage-directed Candide in his own performing edition, which jettisoned good music but included silly dialogue that allowed the show to run three hours (including intermission). In Act I, "Dear Boy," the first syphilis song of Dr. Pangloss, which has held notes that are high for a baritone, was omitted, and the second syphilis song, "Oh my darling Paquette," was thrown away by Robert Orth, who spoke more than sang it. Yet the Cadiz scene, placed mostly upstage, droned on and on in dialogue that was largely unintelligible. In Act II, the delightful polka "We Are Women" got the axe, but the time saved was squandered when Cacambo and the Eldoradans volleyed "humma-humma" back and forth at length, which wasn't funny or sensible: Candide leaps from land to land and suddenly, three-fourths of the way through, there's a language barrier?

Many in the large cast burdened themselves with thick foreign accents that obstructed intelligibility and turned characters into caricatures. Ann McMahon Quintero offered a big, contraltoish mezzo as the Old Lady, but between her throaty production and a heavy accent, little of her singing or speaking could be understood. Juggling accents, the versatile Orth was an affected, fussy Pangloss, an offensive, obsequious Cacambo and a bitter, snarling Martin, but he was most believable and effective when he dropped the accents as Voltaire. Physical and vocal overacting marred baritone André Chiang's Maximilian; his Captain, played straight and sung cleanly, was far more effective. Many of the cameo characters seemed consciously "comic," as opposed to funny because they take themselves seriously. In spite of, or partly because of, the evident striving for comedy, Candide's serious side came off better.

Soaring high above the shenanigans were Rachele Gilmore as Cunegonde and Jonathan Boyd as Candide. The best diction in a large cast isn't normally a coloratura soprano's, but so natural was Gilmore's singing and so pellucid her tone that it was the case here. Whether capping ensembles with strain-free high notes, singing floridly in "Glitter and Be Gay" or with legato at "I thought the world was sugar cake," she sang with accuracy, clarity, beauty and seeming ease, and she was never shrill. I've seen Cunegondes with more personality, but in this staging Gilmore's restraint was refreshing. Boyd, whose tenor and color palette have grown since his Portland Opera appearances from 2005 to 2008, commanded Candide's range of moods, from naïve optimism to shattered disillusion. The Ballad of Eldorado was eloquently sung, and Candide's meditations, lament and "Nothing More Than This" were genuinely moving. I won't soon forget Boyd's anguished singing of "soul as dead as face was fair," or Gilmore's stung reaction.

Like them and few others, Caitlin Mathes made a human being of her character, Paquette. Mark A. Thomsen (Governor/Vanderdendur/Ragotski) delivered strong high notes in "My Love" and "Bon Voyage." The chorus sang powerfully when unaccompanied in "Make Our Garden Grow." Conductor Cal Stewart Kellogg shaped the music effectively and got the so-so orchestra swinging in "What's the Use." Jerome Serlin's projections, created for Austin Lyric Opera in 2000 and seen in Portland in 2002, were a mixed bag; the best of them presented evocative forests, a realistic sea, and the lyrics of the three "Universal Good" chorales on a globe. spacer


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