City Opera is ending its 2007-2008 season and saying good bye to the New York State Theater as we know it. Planned extensive renovations will preempt next season altogether, leaving us to wonder what will come of the company under its next general manager, the enfant terrible of Salzburg and Paris, Gerard Mortier, when it reopens in the fall of 2009. As a company designed for American opera and less elite audiences, it is perhaps fitting that it observed this milestone in its history with what is essentially a Broadway show.
Leonard Bernstein kept revising Candide almost until his death in 1990. This version, the so-called “Opera House” version of 1982, looks a bit tired in Harold Prince’s circus-like production. The undisguised use of amplification belied the operatic pretensions. The diction coaching of modern American theater produces an artificial voice of incredible, open mouthed naivete, leaving too many stage performers sounding like gay kindergarten teachers, and that was certainly in no short supply. Most of the singers came from show business. Noted film and television actor Richard Kind’s Pangloss stood out for sheer acting in his mostly spoken role. Daniel Reichard, of the recent Broadway hit Jersey Boys, captured the title character’s simplicity. Lauren Worsham sang a lovely, effecting Cunegonde. This is, however, mostly an ensemble piece, following from the twists and turns of Voltaire’s original story. Robert Ousley and Eric Michael Gillett were an amusing comic duo as the Grand Inquisitor of Lisbon and Don Issacher, rivals for Cunegonde’s affections. Ousley’s Baron Thunder-ten-Tronck also made a strong impression. George Manahan led the orchestra in a fresh reading of Bernstein’s colorful score.