Album Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre.

Beverley Klein is a stand-out success as the Old Woman, hugely entertaining in ‘I Am Easily Assimilated’ and vividly leads ‘The Venice Gavotte’; Alex Kelly is a vibrant Cunegonde whose ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ sparkles anew; Simon Russell Beale doubles up as Voltaire himself and a resplendently full-voiced Dr Pangloss; of the leads, only Daniel Evans’ Candide was a slight disappointment, sounding perhaps a little too modern for the overall feel of the production.

There’s fun in picking out ensemble members like Clive Rowe, David Burt, Mark Umbers and Alex Hanson in supporting role but there’s musical heaven in listening to the finales to both acts. The quartet ending Act One folds competing vocal lines over each other gloriously and the climax to the show in ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ is as uplifting as the dawn itself – full company and orchestra combining to goose-bumping effect (that acapella sequence!). Life is happiness indeed.

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