Candide first opened on Broadway as a musical on December 1, 1956. It featured Robert Rounseville as Candide, Barbara Cook as Cunegonde, Max Adrian as Dr. Pangloss, and Irra Petina as the Old Lady. While this production was not a huge success, the music became an almost instant cult hit. Some music historians tend to put that down to the fact that New York at the time didn’t want very much to do with an operetta pretending to be a musical. Others blame Hellman’s overtly political and topical book, which drew parallels between the Inquisition and McCarthyism.
Without Bernstein’s involvement, the show underwent a series of Broadway revivals under the direction of Harold Prince, previously known for, among other work, producing the first run of Fiddler on the Roof. Lillian Hellman, the author of the original book, refused to let any of her work be used in the revival, so Prince commissioned a new, one-act book from Hugh Wheeler. The lyrics were worked on by the team of artists listed above. This 90-minute version, omitting over half of the musical numbers, was known as the “Chelsea version.”
In response to requests from opera companies for a more legitimate version, the show was expanded based on Wheeler’s book. The two-act opera house version contains most of Bernstein’s music, including some songs that were not orchestrated for the original production. It was first performed by the New York City Opera in 1982 under Prince’s direction, and ran for 34 performances. Since, opera companies around the world have performed this version. The production continues to be a staple of New York City Opera’s repertoire, with performances underway in Spring 2005.
In 1988, by which point Hellman had died, Bernstein started working alongside John Mauceri to produce a version that expressed his final wishes regarding Candide. He thought that in recent versions too much had been jettisoned or tinkered with, with songs given to different characters and/or put in the wrong context. The new show was first produced by Scottish Opera and then, after a few more minor changes, Bernstein conducted and recorded what he called his “final revised version,” with Jerry Hadley, June Anderson, Christa Ludwig, and Adolph Green.
Ten years later, when the Royal National Theatre in the UK decided to produce Candide, another revision was deemed necessary and Wheeler’s book was rewritten by John Caird. This book stuck far closer to Voltaire’s original text than any previous version. The songs remained largely as Bernstein intended, bar a few more tweaks from Sondheim and Wilbur. This, the “RNT version,” was a major success and has been performed a number of times since.
A recent major production of Candide was directed by Lonny Price in a semi-staged concert production with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop. It ran for four performances, May 5–8, 2004. This production was also broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances. The cast featured Paul Groves as Candide, Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss, Patti LuPone as the Old Lady, with choruses from both Westminster Choir College and the Juilliard School completing the performance cast. This production included the rarely sung duet between Cunegonde and the Old Lady, “We Are Women”.
Candide is most famous for its popular overture which is often performed alone as a concert piece, more than any other single musical number from the operetta. The overture is often performed at the Last Night of the Proms.
Candide has overcome its initial unenthusiastic reaction and achieved enormous popularity. It is very popular among major music schools as a student show because of its wonderful music and the spectacular opportunities it offers to talented student singers. Its overture is played in concert halls all over the world on a regular basis, recognizable to those of a certain age as the theme song to the Dick Cavett show, and still used today to herald Cavett onstage during his talk-show guest-spots. It is widely regarded as being among Leonard Bernstein’s finest theatrical works.
Based on Voltaire’s satirical masterpiece and set to Leonard Bernstein’s glorious music, Candide tells the story of a young man, Candide, who is determined to follow his instructor’s creed of mindless optimism. Even after being banished from his homeland, captured by Bulgarians, beaten by the Spanish Inquisition, robbed of everything he owns, and torn repeatedly from the woman he loves, Candide still clings to the philosophy that everything is for the best in this, “the best of all possible worlds.” He and his friends eventually find themselves seeking guidance from the Wisest Man in the World–a ghost from their past who has a surprising revelation for them!
The play begins in Westphalia, where we meet the characters: the Baron and Baroness, Cunegonde–their beautiful virgin daughter, Maximilian–their handsome son, Candide–their handsome bastard nephew, and Paquette– the Baroness’ buxom serving maid. Their tutor, Dr. Pangloss, preaches the philosophy that all is for the best in “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” Inspired by Pangloss’ private “lessons” to Paquette, Candide declares his love for Cunegonde. Discovered by the family, Candide, a social inferior, is expelled from Westpahlia and wanders alone — with only his optimism to cling to.
Discovered at dawn asleep in a field, Candide is press-ganged into the Bulgar Army. He tries to desert, but is recaptured and is made to run the gauntlet. He is just able to walk again when the Bulgars declare war on Westphalia where everyone is massacred.
Time passes. Alone in the world and starving, Candide gives the few coins he has to an old man with a tin nose, worse off than himself: syphilis has rotted away several of his fingers. Candide discovers that it is Pangloss brought back to life. He philosophizes that this is still the best of all possible worlds, however, for syphilis is a product of the New World. Both men are arrested for heresy and dragged off to Lisbon where Pangloss is sentenced by the Inquisitor and hanged. Candide escapes with a whipping. After his beating, a kind old lady rescues him and restores him to health. After he has recovered, the Old Lady sneaks him into Cunegonde’s apartment. Candide is thrilled to find his former lover alive, but the reunion is cut short by the arrival of her lovers: a Jew and a Cardinal. Candide inadvertently stabs both the men— to death.
With the French police in pursuit for the murders in Paris, Candide accepts a commission to fight for the Jesuits in South America, with a free passage for Cunegonde and the Old Lady. So they take ship for the New World, but the vessel is attacked by pirates and the women are carried off for another round of ravishment. When Candide arrives in the New World, he finds both Paquette and Maximilian alive and sold into slavery. Candide brings them up-to-date on what has happened and swears that he will rescue Cunegonde once more and marry her. Maximilian, however, is still furious at the suggestion that his sister should marry Candide. As luck would have it, Candide accidentally kills Maximilian.
That night, Candide and Paquette escape into the jungle of South America and discover the jewel-filled city of El Dorado. After loading two sheep with gold and jewels, Candide and Paquette return to Cartagena only to learn that the pirates have taken Cunegonde to Constantinople. The Governor offers Candide a boat to pursue the pirates, which he readily accepts! Still, Candide, Paquette and the Old Lady, who has rejoined them after being rejected by the pirates, finally make their way to Constantinople where they buy Cunegonde’s freedom with the gold they have recovered. They use the last of their remaining fortune to buy the freedom of Maximilian who has somehow wound up in the same household after being miraculously brought back to life!
Now, reunited but without a penny to their name, they are all unsure what to do next, so they decide to visit the Wisest Man in the World. There they find Dr. Pangloss, miraculously alive and having abandoned his old “best of all possible worlds” philosophy, spouting a new one: the work ethic. Candide, still quite committed to Pangloss, decides to follow this new creed, buy a little farm, grow a garden, and milk the cow which they have managed to acquire. Even as everyone agrees that this is, of course, a splendid decision, the cow falls dead with the pox.
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