It has been a while since I can remember Welsh National Opera getting a (well-deserved) standing ovation and while it is a pity it is for a fun musical rather than “serious opera” at least the company is pleasing people again.
Similarly, the previous crowd-pleaser was Blaze of Glory, another witty and laugh-out-loud lighter fare production that contrasted with that season’s shockingly awful Magic Flute.
Here the success is based on wonderful choreography of a group of dancers, delightfully daft and splendidly sung performances from an energetic jolly cast, and a magical use of visual graphics that were utterly transfixing. These elements gave conductor Karen Kamensek a sure-fire-hit setting for Bernstein’s stunning score that is just crammed with a sparkling variety of arias and chorus numbers, show tune music and schmaltz.
Based on Voltaire’s work, the story is quite ridiculous and a daft send up of Enlightenment cod philosophy that make the most of life’s disasters, mankind’s worse excesses, nature’s cruelty, and the craziness of those who think everything must be for the best.
Francesca Saracino, Ed Lyon, Mark Nathan and Claudia Boyle
Mark Nathan and Aled Hall
James Bonas’ direction and the clever use of video graphics by Gregoire Pont rather than actual sets enables the frankly hapless Candide to race through a dizzying array of experiences in the duration of a show from wars of religion, mythical golden cities, the Inquisition, prostitution and destitution, romance and syphilis, generosity and avarice – the list goes on and on.
The cast is fabulous from Ed Lyon’s lovable hero whose wide-eyed belief in the silly philosophy taught to him by his tutor Dr Pangloss that makes all his disasters fair enough. His love interest Cunegonde is gloriously outrageous, intoxicatingly sung by Claudia Boyle and Gillian Bevan captivates as that quack tutor who acts as narrator and looks like Vivian Westwood in Nathalie Pallandre’s great costumes. We also have the narcissistic androgynous Maximilian from Mark Nathan and the worldly servant Paquette from Francesca Saracino, both of whom also manage to survive every disastrous event. The Old Woman from Madeline Shaw is another zany character with a daft Russian accent who intentionally slips into what sounds Scottish after the show had to be stopped mid flow for a medical emergency and then resumed. By the way, Boyle copes admirably losing one of her shoes during her sensational big htter number and performs without pause.
Along the way are a host of mad cap characters in what is like a Baron Munchausen caper, sexually outrageous jews and archbishops, corrupt governors (does the wonderfully madcap Aled Hall never stop working?) and officialdom, Jesuits and slave masters, plus delightful cartoon-drawn animals that pop up all the way along the fantastical journeys.
With a full-voiced choral ensemble and great dancers who help keep the action flowing along, this is a fun summer hit that cannot fail to delight. The combination of the visual cleverness and cuteness and the sophistication and joy of Ewan Jones’ choreography is a rare treat – go and see it!
Wales Millennium Centre and touring to Truro, Llandudno, Oxford, Birmingham, and Brecon until July 13.
Conducting Candide: https://www.asiw.co.uk/my-own-words/karen-kamensek-conducting-candide-wno
Images Johan Persson