Candide is a two-act operetta by Leonard Bernstein loosely based on the satirical novel by Voltaire Candide ou l'Optimisme (1758). The dramatist Lillian Hellman turned the eighty-page long “philosophical novel” into a libretto. The not so successful libretto then underwent numerous changes, including by the famous American poet and translator Richard Wilbur.
The operetta, just like the thirty chapters of the novel, contains an overwhelmingly large number of events. The list of the places where the fortune takes the main character, carefree Candide, is impressive on its own: Westphalia, Lisbon, Paris, Buenos Aires, South American jungle, the fantastic land of Eldorado, the Dutch colony Surinam, Venice... And everywhere Candide, whose name means ‘open-hearted’, stays optimistic because this is what he was taught by the philosopher Pangloss, “All is for the best in the best of possible worlds”.
Candide was created at the confluence of musical, opera and operetta. Before Candide, the composer wrote two extraordinarily popular Broadway musicals – On the Town and Wonderful Town. West Side Story, which Bernstein wrote at the same time with Candide, still enjoys worldwide fame.
Candide was first performed on stage in New York (1956) without any special success. Fans of musicals found Candide to be too academic. For example, Cunégonde’s song “Glitter and Be Gay” is the most challenging aria for an opera coloratura soprano. On the other hand, fans of opera found Candide to be “too Broadway”. While looking for a definition for his genre mixture, Bernstein came up with the subheading “comic operetta”. “Let others decide how they would like to call it – an operetta, a comic operetta or something else”. It might seem that this is some kind of a new form. Our theatre seems to have no analogues to it, so the time will tell,” – commented the composer.
Candide has successfully stood the test of time. Today, the operetta is regularly performed in different parts of the world. Its overture has become a popular symphonic hit and is often performed in concert halls. After Bernstein died in 1990, the New York Philharmonic has been performing it without a conductor – in the memory of the person who directed this ensemble, who had been supervising the work of this ensemble during 11 years.
The first performance of Candide in Mariinsky Theatre will be supervised by the composer’s compatriot Leon Botstein. The guests of the Stars of the White Nights festival got acquainted with the American conductor last year, when Botstein premiered Taneev’s opera Oresteia and conducted a concert, which included pieces by Copland, Barber, and Bernstein.