Sexy operetta mixes old, new styles

By By Christie Franke

By Christie Franke

Voltaire wrote his novella Candide more than 200 years ago. Leonard Bernstein wrote his operetta by the same name about 50 years ago, and several versions of it exist because Bernstein is one of those composers who is never satisfied. Voltaire’s novella is a small book where no one sings, and Bernstein’s piece is “a large operetta in which almost everyone insists upon it.”

Why do we care? Because the University Lyric Opera Ensemble is putting on Bernstein’s version of “Candide” this weekend.

“Candide,” as Voltaire wrote it, is an unforgiving satire — which means it’s wickedly funny on stage. This is more in the style of musical theatre than hard-core opera, as the “operetta” sobriquet lets us know.

Although the ensemble has had the music since the winter holidays, work on the actual production started three weeks ago. The singers have been hard at work since coming back from Spring Break for four hours of practice every evening and on Saturday mornings. Understandably, everyone is pumped and ready to go. A febrile excitement surrounds the two casts — one for each night.

The operetta takes place in Europe and South America — locales are proclaimed by the chorus wielding a giant map from a raised platform at the back of the stage. Candide, the main character, travels a lot after being banished from his home castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh, and he faces many extreme adventures — including a narrow brush from being burned at the stake — in the process.

It’s a sexy play, too, but it has its good advice. Given that the innuendos begin in the first five minutes and that the story is French in origin, no one should be surprised.

“It’s a really fun show,” said Stephen Gordan, who plays the narrator, Pangloss, in one of the casts. “Ironically, even though there are some moral things people might have a problem with, it has a good moral: Stop judging, don’t put people into categories of good or bad.”

“Candide” is a mix of old and new. The characters wear a variety of colored Converse sneakers, the sets are somewhat minimal and there will be a ship on stage (never underestimate the power of the theater, right?).

In accordance with the era in which it was written — the 1950s-Bernstein’s score is loud and energetic. This is a comical operetta, and even when the subject matter is tough, the music is fairly even-keeled. Despite all of the trials the characters go through — and they go through a lot — everything works out all right in the end.

“Candide” runs at Kingsbury Hall on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call the Kingsbury Hall Box Office at 801-581-7100. Ticket prices are $10 to $20. Go support your fellow Utes in their creative endeavours. You won’t be disappointed.

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