The three big papers in Italy (Corriere, La Stampa, and La Repubblica) all reported a t0tally excited reception (10 minutes of applause –- but we’ll get to that later) for Robert Carsen's direction --> appropriation --> adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's Candide from the Wednesday, June 20 la prima at Teatro alla Scala. Don’t get us wrong. We liked many things about it: the witty tributes to cultural icons and shared historical legacy, the dying flicker of optimism and increasing commodification of American culture since the death of JFK, and the rise of the tacky and misguided nouveau riche. (yawnz0rs)
But by the end of the night, the audience is pushed into the role of a bemused parent battling the sudden onset of puberty of a confused and rebellious teenager. Carsen inelegantly slams his dogma and paints his social-commentary-couched-in-irreverent opinions in such broad strokes, that a few times OC found herself rolling her eyes to his modern citations ('does the audience like me yet?! I wont stop referencing our shared cultural history until I am liked.')
But Carsen’s production was equally brilliant compared to even the most tenuous parts: a brief allusion to Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, complete with a saxophone-wielding cross-dressing Jack Lemmon as Maximilian, uttering the famous (ed: Joe E. Brown's in the original movie) line, "well, nobody's perfect". While I lolled, not one of the Italians near me uttered a single sound. And of course, Glitter and Be Gay was set to the iconic Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, as Cunegonde is transformed into Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What we also respected from Carsen was the elegant handling of the inherent anti-war message, which was thankfully not foisted heavily into the structure of Carsen's moral edits, and rather delievered with wit and grace.
The stage, as you all have seen/read by now, is set inside a giant television from the 1950s with rounded rectangle frames, reminiscent of a giant vintage metal lunchbox. The opening credits are certainly brilliant enough, all in English in whimsical font, as well as the appealing nostalgic pastiche of stock footage, all taken from idealized, pastel, and frothy clips of happy American 1950s families -- panning the camera over white picket fences and brand new ranch homes, spliced with footage of the JFK wedding, a NASA space launch, etc...all saturated in a warm orange glow of nostalgia. However, Voltaire giving the audience the middle finger to signify the opening of Act I is a little too, well, *rolls eyes*.
But in the age of MTV and lightning-fast edits, OC found the overall production riddled with a bad case of ADHD *omg brb something shiny*! It was impossible to focus on the overture with the media presentation buzzing and flashing behind (there was also a similar presentation after the first intermission). The problem with this entire production is that Bernstein’s music and creation takes complete backstage to Carsen's self-laudatory, egotistical omg shared inheritance omg direction. He's like Orson Welles on crack. Carsen uses Lenny’s Candide as a vehicle to perpetuate his convictions and his own brand of heavy-handed social commentary, and to present his own, updated version of Voltaire’s novel. The music was a mere afterthought, a batch of stringed notes for the background of Carsen's direction. This was all in great contrast to the 2004 Candide OC saw in NYC, a love-fest hommage to Bernstein...where at one point in scene, an album of Lenny's West Side Story was used as a prop in tribute to the great maestro, the audience bursting out in applause.
The La Scala orchestra was completely incapable of getting down that fundamental, unique ,brash Lenny sound. They washed it entirely in their patented La Scala Italianate (duh) treatment -- although very beautiful and evocative in its own right -- but not even close. But then again, no one was really listening to the music rite? so who cares!
The final word on the cut scenes? As the legend goes *cue grandpappy voice*, it all began back in December 2006 when Stéphane Lissner took his adolescent son (note: OC isn’t a parent, but I prolly wouldn’t recommend this opera for 13-year-olds) to the December 26th Paris production at the Théâtre du Châtelet, and decided that Carsen's vision of Candide was "not in line with the artistic production of La Scala". Many meetings behind closed doors in January 2007 between Lissner and Carsen were held, where eventually they agreed upon a “Milan-Safe” version, cutting roughly 15-minutes of staging from the Paris version, including two songs of Dr. Pangloss (but hinted-at in the newspaper for reasons wanting to conserve Lamert Wilson’s voice. um okay yaaaah).
Now, thanks to video captures of the January 2007 Arte' channel broadcast of the uncensored and uncut Paris production, those who can’t get to the theater can revel in Carsen’s controversial vision (Again, Opera Chic has been forbidden by la Scala's lawyers to publish la Scala promotional material that is freely distributed to the media, and shots from inside the theater.) Here were most of the edits:
In the famous scene with Berlusconi, Blair, Bush, Chirac, and Putin floating drunkenly among split oil tanks (at la prima, two of those tanks had a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, and remained distractedly and ominously on stage ten minutes through the Las Vegas scene) Putin thankfully doesn't vomit (making instead very audible hiccups), and Berlusconi is dressed in longer briefs (instead of a little Speedo seen in Paris). The neckties of the five world leaders have been left in the dressing room, but that was explained for the reasons of new, improved masks that didn’t need the neckties to conceal the creases in the material.
No molesting, pAEdophile priests or priest/church jokes…specifically the line, "Farebbero comodo alla nostra confraternita" (but instead Dr. Pangloss grossly molests Paquette through a few scenes.) Also cut was the entire scene of the cardinals arriving in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Lots of cracks at the Mormons, however remained, upon Candide’s arrival in Salt Lake City, UT. Not many Mormons in Italia!
Dr. Pangloss/Voltaire/Martin, played by the excellent Lambert Wilson, narrates in Italian language (instead of English) marring the production with an ersatz and disjointed feel (Lissner had said that such long stretches of English would bore and lose the interest of the general audience). Even the last few lines in the ending scene uttered by Candide and Voltaire are spoken in Italian.
Appearing in scene, although reportedly once agreed to be cut by Carsen, was Kim Criswell’s Old Lady, who said she was the daughter of a Polish pope ("Sono figlia di un papa polacco") because I remember being like, 'oh great, here comes the Pole joke.
But can we just address the screaming headlines that state the Candide la prima received bountiful applause? Well, yes, technically there was roughly 10 minutes of applause. People liked it, yes. But whoever coordinated the curtain calls split-up the massive, massive chorus into much smaller sets of about 15 members, each line of chorus singers taking an isolated, separate bow. Technically and literally, because the chorus (ed: and the mimes and the dancers) was split into small bodies among such a large group, it took a very long time. When the principals finally came together with Carsen, Axelrod, et al, after the entire chorus had taken their like, 8 minutes of curtain calls, there was only *one* ovation for them. The curtain went down once, and was raised one additional instance for a final, second ovation. THIS CASE HAS BEEN OFFICIALLY CLOSED.
Now to make this monster post even more GINORMOUS, here are some more screenshots from the December 2006 Paris production, broadcast last January by Arté on satellite, not from La Scala's production:
Above: Dr. Pangloss's history lesson
Above: The chorus and the earthquake
Above: auto-da-fé with hanging of Candide and Pangloss. Oh yeah: And the KKK.
Above: Cunegonde's Glitter and Be Gay
Above: Escape from Hawaii to the Titantic
Above: Bush drunk on a raft
Above: Blair drunk on a raft
Above: More rafts
Above: Las Vegas and The Old Lady