Sunday, May 6, 2018


The Washington National Opera celebrated the “Kennedy Center’s Leonard Bernstein at 100 “in the best of all possible ways, with this  new-to-Washington production of Candide.

Francesca Zambello directs the stellar cast — tenor Alek Shrader in his WNO debut in the title role,  soprano Emily Pogorelc as his forlorn love interest Cunegonde, and WNO audience favorite and local legend Denyce Graves as the Old Lady.   Nicole Paiment conducted Bernstein’s effervescent score.

Candide is a literary as well as a musical treat.  This version of  Voltaire’s original story was adapted by Hugh Wheeler and revised by John Cair, with lyrics by poet Richard Wilbur, and nods to Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, and Dorothy Parker.   Leonard Bernstein also had a go at giving Candide just the right words to his score.   Wow!

The embodiment of naive optimism, Candide offers up wit and wisdom, in his world wide travels starting from his home in Bavaria, to Westphalia in time for a war, to Lisbon for the earthquake and the Inquisition, to Cadiz, Spain for a ship to the New World.  Somewhere there is a shipwreck, and somewhere else there is a
capture to be on slave galley ship. 

 And he never stops saying his mantra “this is the best of all possible worlds”  as he never gives up looking for his lost love Cunegonde who has undergoes many transformations herself from glittery gold to haggard and old.  

And the people he meets!  The ensemble cast quick-changes its way through dozens of colorful characters to go along  with his dozens of experiences.    Wynn Harmonin has the dual role of Voltaire and Candide’s tutor Dr. Pangloss. Baritone Edward Nelson is Maximilian and bass-baritone Matthew Scollin sings the roles of James and Martin. 

WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program is well represented with tenor Frederick Ballentine is Cacambo, mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet is Paquette, and tenor Alexander McKissick is the Grand Inquisitor and the Governor. Soprano Kerriann OtaƱo, an alumna of the program, sings the roles of the Baroness and Vanderdendur. 

A talented ensemble of soloists performs Candide’s many character roles: Tom Berklund, Jaely Chamberlin, Andrew Harper, Katherine Henley, Michael Hewitt, Nicholas Houhoulis, Jarrod Lee, Andrea Beasom Lindgren, Danny Lindgren, Alison Mixon, Ameerah Sabreen, and Louisa Waycott.

Kudos to them all for the best performance of this truly best of all possible shows!