Mix the musical genius of Leonard Bernstein, with the satiric brilliance of Voltaire and just a dash of 21st century play, and Valdosta audiences should find a performance to remember in Valdosta State University Opera’s “Candide.”
In his conductor’s notes, VSU Music’s Kenneth Kirk explains that Voltaire was “a humorist, satirist, and hugely influential thinker, and ‘Candide’ is his masterwork. In it, he lampooned the philosophy that ‘All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,’ espoused by Pope, Leibniz, and Rousseau.”
Voltaire couldn’t find any best possible world in the 1758 one that included the violent madness of the Seven Years’ War, missionaries mistreating natives, and an earthquake that ravaged Lisbon a few years earlier.
So, in his book, Voltaire sets the sunshiny optimism of sheltered Candide into the maelstrom that is the world, and Candide’s slow disillusionment from the best of all possible worlds to one where he takes the more guarded approach of “... we must cultivate our garden.”
Though biting, Voltaire invested ample humor into his satire.
American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein brought his vision to this French work in the mid-1950s. While Bernstein may be a genius, his reputation was not built on his operetta of “Candide.” The show was critically panned at its premiere. Numerous creative minds have tinkered with the opera through the decades.
By adding slapstick and contemporary touches, VSU Opera is taking a page from the 2004 New York Philharmonic production that starred Kristin Chenowitch, says Eric Brandt Nielsen who serves as the VSU show’s stage director and choreographer. This production adds touches to make it a far more enjoyable show to produce and watch.
This slapstick humor, along with Voltaire’s original storyline, makes “Candide” something of an opera not intended for children, says Carol Mikkelsen, the show’s producer and director. There will be no Friday morning performance for school students for “Candide” as there has been with past VSU Opera productions.
Kirk adds “a word from the censor” in his conductor’s remarks: “Much of Voltaire’s humor comes from his outrageous satire, which makes for hilarious, but also rude and risque, comedy. Opera is often not politically correct, and viewers are warned that ‘Candide’ is an equal opportunity offender.”
Starring in the title role is guest artist Thomas Trotter, a renowned opera star known for “that special combination of a beautiful voice and a compelling dramatic presence.” Trotter has performed a variety of operatic roles in venues throughout the United States.
Guest artist Raymond Hughes also joins the cast, in the roles of the narrator, Pangloss and the Philosopher. He has made his international reputation with conducting posts in Germany and South Africa, and as a guest conductor in Rome, the Festival of the Aegean, and with the Norwegian Opera in Oslo.
They join a VSU cast that has been rehearsing diligently since August, Mikkelsen says. The VSU Opera is traditionally performed in the spring, so presenting “Candide” by late October has required some adjustments ... but that is the price of cultivating one’s garden.
DIRECTION, PRODUCTION: Carol Mikkelsen, producer, director; Kenneth Kirk, musical director, conductor; Eric Brandt Nielsen, stage director, choreographer; Hollis Barnett, projection artist.
THE CAST: Thomas Trotter, Caroline Hatchett, Raymond Hughes, Jacque Wheeler, Ethan Parker, Tabitha Tapia, Rakeeta Laird, Antoine Bray, Nathan Calvert, Nicholas Baggarly, Lacie Hall, Chad Capers, Ashley Hamilton, Mariah Hollis, Esther Maloof, DeVante Graham, Rob Evans, Paul Neal, Karl Paoletti, Wayne Ellerbee, Ann Brightwell McCord, Hillary Lee, Hannah Hitchcock, Tyler Walker, Allie Peterson, Paul Neal, and Austin Rivers.
MUSIC ALUMNI CHORUS: Ann B. McCord, Kathy Lincoln, Nancy Morris, Salli-Tymna Parker, Suzanne Chafin, Christy Pinto, Adrienne Reissiger, Jane Timmers, Teresa Tucker, Rhenda Parker, Laura Rudisail, Virginia Hall, Rachel Rumstay, Tammara Housel, Lynn Derringer, Lauren Harris Lott, Renee Terns, Crystal Moody, Sarah Riggle, Steve Kelley, Brandon Bush, Andrew Hill, Matthew Mainella, Keefer Peterson, Adrian Rivers, Rusty Weatherington, and Thomas Whiddon
ORCHESTRA: Nina Lutz, Alex Reshetnichenko, Kristin Pfeifer, Natalie Chang, Mariana Krewer, and Katie Trotter (violin); Daniela Cruz and Maria Luisa Santacruz (viola); Steven Taylor and Alexander Paul (violincello); Tod Leavitt (contrabass); Nicole Kessler and Julie Chau (flute); Julie Chau (piccolo); Chelsea Slagor (oboe); Garry Morales Urbina (English horn); Jeffrey Olson and Mikey Arbulu (clarinet); Mikey Arbulu (bass clarinet); Jonathan Headen (bassoon); Kristen Johns and Paul Basler (horn); Eduardo Farias and Teal Ewer (trumpet); Doug Farwell and Zach Jones (trombone); Curtis Thornton (tuba); David Morris (timpani); Paul Campiglia, Christopher Chao, Nancy Davis, Kaitlyn Jones, and Dylan Sloan (percussion); Jamie Gossett (harp); Dariusz Ocetek and Eduardo Farias (crew).
CREW: Sayma Hossain and Kristin Hill, costumers; Valerie Holton, rehearsal pianist, program design; Joe Muncy, technical director, lighting design; Ryan Ponsell, master electrician; Bryan Garris, sound engineer; Olivia Hood, stage manager; Michael Smith, assistant stage manager; Kathleen Kirk, libretto compiler; Sarah Alexander, College of the Arts Outreach director; Guy Frost, Facebook administrator; Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity, ushers.
VSU Opera presents “Candide.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27; 3 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 28.
Where: Whitehead Auditorium, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.
Tickets: $20, adult; $5, non-VSU student; free, VSU student with ID.
Reservations, more information: Call (229) 333-2150; or visit valdosta.edu/music/opera