Leonard Bernstein is the composer’s seminal theatrical work, a work that has suddenly become ever-present around the United States. Almost every major company or concert hall has mounted some iteration of the work in the last year or so to celebrate the composer’s centennial birthday.
And this was the case at the legendary Carnegi Hall, which held a benefit concert featuring four of opera’s greatest stars, an Oscar nominee, and accomplished Broadway stars. The result was a splendid evening filled with laughs and virtuosic singing that showcased why this work needs to be performed on some of the world’s major stages.
A Unique Production
Even though it was on the stage of Carnegie Hall, Gary Griffin, combined with choreographer Joshua Bergasse and Production Designer Wendall K. Harrington, managed to create an engaging semi-staged version filled with unique dances, from waltzes and ballet numbers, and projections that allowed audiences to follow the story.
Griffin also incorporated the singers into the production seamlessly. At one point Paul Appleby’s Candide was asked to dance a waltz while Patricia Racette had a chance to show off her Tango moves. There were a number of choreographed numbers that every singer was challenged with but it didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Instead, it proved how well each singer could move gracefully throughout the stage while singing the intricate lines Bernstein wrote.
Two Show-stopping Sopranos
Of the four opera singers on this evening, Erin Morley, who portraying Cunegunde, easily received the biggest ovation of the evening for her virtuosic “Glitter and be Gay.” And it was well-deserved as Morley easily sang the difficult roulades with such perfection, switching from spoken verses to the laughing coloratura. Here, Morley showcased a more subtle rendering of the aria never going overboard with the dialogue, but instead interacting with jewels on her wrist and the ones that two supers handed over to her. She danced around the stage as she interpolated one high note after another and held out her final E flat with ease.
But this wasn’t Morley’s only big moment. From the start of the night, the soprano showcased youthful energy dancing and singing each line with such fluid technique. And for those awaiting lyrical moments, Morley had plenty as she easily blended her coloratura soprano with Paul Appleby’s elegant tenor. During the duet “You Were Dead, You Know,” the two voices melded into one, showcasing tenderness in the pianissimo phrases. And as the music came to a climax, Morley and Appleby’s opened up beautifully.
But Morley wasn’t the only showstopper. Patricia Racette, who is arguably one of America’s greatest singing actresses, showed off her crossover skills, combining her cabaret style with her operatic voice. While Racette’s volume has undoubtedly been reduced, her charisma and stage presence are far from lost. The moment she stepped on stage as the Old Lady, she dominated through and through. Her accentuated dialogue was spoken with spunk and charm and as she sung the famous “I am Easily Assimilated,” she easily accentuated certain Spanish phrases with ease. As Racette danced on the stage with elegance, she sang each phrase with agility and intensity. Her interactions with the chorus seamlessly reminded audiences what this compelling performer is capable of.
In her duet with Morley, “We Are Women,” the two created comedic timing ending each other’s phrases with agility. The two sang with their operatic voices but at some points it was almost as if they were singing musical theater, reminding audiences of how similar these two art forms are. It was a showstopper and one of the biggest highlights of the evening.
A Captivating Tenor
In the title role, Paul Appleby imbued the youthful qualities one expects from the character. He was agile, innocent, and passionate. From the beginning, one could sense a naivete in him and as he sang his first aria “Life is Happiness Indeed,” Appleby used his lighter timbre to emphasize that. His volume increased as the aria moved along until Appleby crescendoed into an ardent forte.
During the first duet with Morley, “Oh, Happy We,” their voices imbued brightness that meshed well with Bernstein’s light score. One of the most striking moments in Appleby’s performance was undoubtedly the finale, “Make Our Garden Grow.” Here Appleby’s voice had greater heft, emphasizing the growth of the character while still retaining the gorgeous lyric line.
As noted, Appleby displayed dazzling dance moves as he waltzed on stage and did some musical theater choreography all while singing and keeping an even tone. It showcased his flexibility and his incredible stage presence.
An Oscar Nominee
As Pangloss John Lithgow easily brought the most experience. As a multiple Tony winner, Lithgow narrated with clarity and charm, emphasizing certain aspects of the spoken dialogue. He also easily transitioned from the spoken text to his singing voice. While not the most colorful of voices and one that was clearly microphoned, Lithgow still emitted beauty and charisma as he sang “Dear Boy.” He interacted with Appleby and his choristers, prancing on stage and moving with ease. And when he sang with Racette, Morley, and Appleby, his voice blended perfectly bringing in some different colors that allowed his singing to be distinguished.
Marilyn Horne made a much-lauded cameo as the Queen of El Dorado, earning a deserved ovation, while veteran Danny Burnstein also earned multiple bravos for his cameo as the Jew.
William Burden sang with an ardent tone in his musical number “My Love,” while Ryan Silverman and Bryonha Marie Parham added glamour to the vocal ensemble as Maximillian and Paquette.
Rob Fisher conducted the Orchestra of St. Lukes and Mansfield University Concert Choir with energy and joy. The famed overture foreshadowed what the evening would be like as Fisher and his orchestra played with vigor and attention to detail. There was a celebratory environment and one could hear it the orchestra as each line in the overture was played with splendor.
With such joyful music-making on this evening, it is a shame, it was a onenight only performance. With such a stellar cast, one hopes New York audiences get to hear this work more often as each performer showcased why “Candide” deserves more showcases in the Big Apple.