Glitter and Be Gay
Just like the piece itself, the DVD of last year's starry New York Philharmonic concert presentation of Candide won't please everyone.
Lonny Price directed a concert version of this notoriously difficult piece for the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall last year. That staging made it clear -- as does the just-released DVD version (Image Entertainment, $24.99) -- that Price doesn't have what it takes to make Candide work. But no one ever has; it's not a piece that really can work. It's a picaresque collage of barely related scenes that follow too many characters through too many adventures in too many countries until they end up back where they started -- wayworn, weary, and wiser. If a director doesn't capture the madcap atmosphere of the piece, you get something like the New York City opera's recent revival: rational, clear-headed, concise, and boring.
Whether you love or hate what Price did with Candide, his choices were never boring. He stripped the piece to its barest essentials and presented his own adaptation of Wheeler's adaptation, with some different songs here and some different jokes there. The result was all over the place, and there were many problems: jokes falling flat (Donald Trump officiating at the Lisbon auto-da-fé), a misspelled sign held up by the chorus (where's Cadiz?), and the casting of Patti LuPone as -- well, as Patti LuPone, though she was supposedly playing the Old Lady. Still, Price did tap into the unpredictable craziness that Candide can't thrive without.
The incomparable orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop, is huge and perfect-sounding. Paul Groves is an agreeable, beautifully sung Candide. Kristin Chenoweth, with her flawless comic timing and fine coloratura soprano, was born to play Cunegonde; the staging of her demanding "Glitter and Be Gay" is overly busy, but she still sounds exquisite. Sir Thomas Allen displays real authority, a lush voice, and a surprisingly adept sense of comedy as the Narrator/Pangloss, while musical theater stalwarts Jeff Blumenkrantz and Janine LaManna have the chops for Maximilian and Paquette. The ensemble is made up of a just-right combination of strong singers and strong comedians. The DVD is notable for the superb quality of its letterboxed image; Price also did the video direction, and he skillfully manipulates camera angles to show everyone at his/her best.