John Axelrod

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21 Jun 2007
An ironic and perfidious 'Candide' at La Scala - superbly conducted by John Axelrod
La Stampa

Robert Carsen's fine show (for which he rewrote the recitatives of the libretto with Ian Burton) has two distinctive features: the huge television that occupies the entire proscenium inside which the action takes places, allowing for various types of language (theatrical, cinematographic, TV), and the sequence of projections at the end. When the chorus urges you to 'cultivate your own garden', we see images of polluting factories, uncontrolled deforestation, melting glaciers and polar icecaps, and desert lands in which foodless peoples wander about. In short, it is a slap in the face that makes you forget about the foolish - and nicely manipulated - controversy over Berlusconi in underpants (the scene of the barcarole of the Big Five remains: so much for all the talk about heavy censorship). Candide has brought a truly youthful breath of air to La Scala and has given new impetus to the orchestra (superbly conducted by John Axelrod), with a surprising ability to release Broadway energies, and above all to the chorus: evidently enjoying itself, nobody had ever seen it dance with so much verve on stage. Needless to say, all of this had the audience for the première performance fully involved, with ten minutes of applause at the end, in addition to plenty of clapping during the show itself. The cast (twelve out of thirteen were singers) was almost the same as the Châtelet production, with a self-assured William Burden in the title role, the amusing Anna Christy (her imitation of Marilyn is superb) in the role of Cunégonde, and a brazen Kim Criswell playing the Old Lady. All have amplified voices (as is the norm with musicals) although this is done with discretion. Needless to say, show-stealer Lambert Wilson's performance was superb. On the other side of the television, he interprets Voltaire (in Italian), while on stage he plays Pangloss and the pessimistic Martin. The lines by the Voltaire character do however create some problems of rhythm. Although fun and mean, they never introduce musical numbers, only dialogues, which sometimes lead to excessively long spoken passages that ultimately weigh down on a show that in all other respects is a barrage of elegance and spirit. Even the more dramatic scenes, such as the extraordinary auto-da-fè that ends with Candide and Pangloss hanging from the gallows, become - in perfect Voltaire spirit - a dance and a reproach.

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