Opera Scotland

Candide in Scotland

Posted 9 Jul 2022

Candide received its first production in Scotland at the 1981 Edinburgh International Festival, opening on 19 August. 

The Birmingham Rep company, led by their director Clive Perry, who had previously run Edinburgh's theatres, were making their second visit to the Festival. They performed again at the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall on the Mound, a favourite venue during the first half-century of the Festival's existence.

The Assembly Hall was usually the host to classic theatre stagings, and Candide here alternated with Shakespearean drama, in the form of As You Like It.  The thrust stage, with audience on three sides, was perhaps a surprising set-up for an operetta, but the superb band controlled by Grant Hossack, took their place in a pit in the centre of the stage. The all-singing, all-dancing company, complete with pantomime llamas, circled round them, choreographed by Stuart Hopps under the direction of Peter Farago.

The cast members were largely drawn from the musical theatre rather than opera, the main exception being Rosemary Ashe, who delivered Cunégonde's crazy coloratura with aplomb. She was partnered by William Relton in a sweetly innocent interpretation of the title role. The central pivot of Voltaire doubling Pangloss was safe in the hands of the wonderful Nickolas Grace, dry of voice and sarcastic of manner. Grace also took on a couple of shorter roles, as well as playing Touchstone on the Shakespeare nights.

 The scene-stealing part of the Old Lady was given a hilarious delivery by Nichola McAuliffe, and sixties pop star turned actor Mark Wynter was excellent as Maximilian.

 

The next appearance of Candide in Scotland came from our national company. Scottish Opera's first production, directed by Jonathan Miller and John Wells in designs by Richard Hudson, opened at the Glasgow Theatre Royal on 19 May 1988. It was given an extensive tour, and, as this was a co-production with the Old Vic, also had a London run. The company's musical director John Mauceri conducted an expanded version of the score, which he had prepared in collaboration with Bernstein.

This production was televised from Glasgow in the presence of the composer. As Mauceri had already recorded an earlier text in the States, when a CD of excerpts was made by Scottish Opera the conductor was his assistant Justin Brown. Bernstein himself went on to conduct a recording of a largely similar edition a couple of years later.

The cast was dominated, once again, by Nickolas Grace. He still played Voltaire and Pangloss, and added two newly-included roles, Martin and Cacambo. The excellent juvenile leads were Mark Beudert and Marilyn Hill Smith. The Old Lady was now in the safe hands of Ann Howard, once a superb Carmen and Delila.

 

More recently, Candide took place of honour as the grand opening concert of the 2007 Edinburgh International Festival (10 August). The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Edinburgh Festival Chorus were on unfamiliar territory (apart from the famous Overture), but were moulded into shape by Robert Spano, over from his base in Atlanta.

On this memorable occasion the evening was held together by great baritone Sir Thomas Allen, a master of comic timing. Allen took the triple roles of Voltair, Pangloss and Martin, but also acted as Narrator, to keep the audience up to speed with the dizzying pace of change of location.  The title role was played by Matthew Polenzani,  a young American lyric tenor, now a regular at the Met.  Laura Aikin was the Cunégonde.

Roland Wood,  Scottish Opera's recent Don Giovanni, was Maximilian, adding the Sea Captain for good measure.  Emerging mezzo Jennifer Johnston made much of Paquette. The Old Lady was played by Kathryn Harries, with another veteran, tenor Keith Lewis, as the Governor.

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