CANDIDE, Lyric Opera of Chicago. Director Harold Prince’s “opera house version” of Leonard Bernstein’s problematic adaptation of Voltaire’s philosophical satire succeeds neither as opera nor as musical comedy. The Lyric cast lack the vocal power to fill the auditorium with Bernstein’s lush Mozart-meets-Mahler music, disappointing fans of beautiful singing; and the witty lyrics (by Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John LaTouche, and Bernstein) lose their comic crispness when the audience is forced to rely on supertitles. Hugh Wheeler’s script has some funny lines (when you can hear them), but Prince’s gimmicky though visually rich circus-sideshow concept reduces Voltaire’s stinging satire to noisy naughtiness.
Of the leads, only baritone Timothy Nolen, in the double role of storyteller Voltaire and the foolish philosopher Pangloss, approaches the necessary balance of broad theatricality and musical refinement; he negotiates shifts in character with finesse and enunciates well enough to convey the elegance and impudence of Bernstein’s score. British tenor Barry Banks is a choirboy Candide–short, pudgy, and baby-faced, with a voice that rises to castrato pitch in some spoken scenes. Soprano Elizabeth Futral negotiates Cunegonde’s taxing coloratura melodies accurately but is dramatically bland; mezzo Phyllis Pancella’s thick mock-Yiddish accent as Cunegonde’s duenna succeeds only in obscuring her lyrics and overemphasizing the role’s anti-Semitic tendencies. The only reason to see this Candide is to hear the well-trained chorus and orchestra–resources far beyond companies like Court Theatre, whose 1991 production was in every other way vastly superior.