As a composer, Leonard Bernstein wrote works in all genres, from Broadway shows to ballets to symphonic music. But it was in the musical where he found himself in his true element.
As a writer of Broadway shows, Bernstein was a force to be reckoned with from the 1950s through the '60s and even on into the '70s. Musicals such as "West Side Story," which was an immediate success when it premiered in 1957, ensured his legacy as one of the most capable and popular composers of Broadway shows.
Of course, not all of his stage works found instant critical and popular favor. Perhaps his most famous failure is "Candide," which premiered in Boston in 1956.
"Candide" was Bernstein's problem child. Almost from the get-go he began revising and reformatting it, but it never caught on with audiences. Until just the past few years, that is. Recently, the work has been revived. It's playing at the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic did a concert version of it not too long ago, and it's been receiving a respectable number of performances in Europe as well. It's finally finding the recognition that had eluded it for so long.
This weekend, "Candide" will at long last be coming to Utah. The University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble will stage it Friday and Saturday in Kingsbury Hall in what Robert Breault believes is the work's local premiere.
Breault, who directs the Lyric Opera Ensemble and runs the U. opera department, is looking forward to bringing it to Salt Lake City. "It's an amazing show with fantastic music," he told the Deseret Morning News. "It's one of those pieces that can be an opera or a Broadway show. It's been performed in both venues."
"Candide" certainly has elements from both worlds, Breault said. "Some things in it are for sure opera, and some other things are definitely theater."
But whether one considers it opera or theater, one thing is certain it contains some of the most memorable music Bernstein wrote for any show. "The music keeps swirling around in my head every time I leave a rehearsal," Breault said. "It has catchy tunes, and that's a mark of a great show."
And people know the music from "Candide" better than they think, Breault added. "The aria 'Glitter and Be Gay' is famous, and the overture is played a lot on the radio and that has all the big tunes from the show. People will come to the show and say, 'I've heard that before,' because of that."
That it's taken so long for "Candide" to come to Utah is surprising, but more astonishing is the fact that it will be performed by a student ensemble. "It has a real big cast requirement, and it's difficult to do with students for exactly that reason," Breault said.
But the U. doesn't lack the vocal talent to pull it off, Breault quickly points out. "It was hard, hard to cast."
For Cunegonde, the lead female role which basically requires a coloratura soprano to pull off successfully, there were 11 finalists. "They were all serious contenders. They all sang 'Glitter and Be Gay,' and everyone sang through the high notes."
The same held true for the tenor role of Candide. "We had four or five credible candidates," Breault said.
The other roles were equally difficult to cast. "No role slotted in easily. We had a lot of difficult choices to make."
This production, as with all of the productions that the Lyric Opera Ensemble presents, will be double cast, giving a large number of students a chance to be a part of what certainly can be called a historic performance.
Breault said the students have enjoyed the music. "The rehearsal process has been wonderful. They're generally very excited about it."
He added that it helps that "Candide" is in English. "It's definitely an advantage. And the musical style of the show is familiar to them. There is nothing in the score that they haven't heard before, or that they can relate with what they listen to on the radio."
There's a song in "Candide" that can serve as a motto for the entire rehearsal process, Breault said. "It's called 'I'm Easily Assimilated,' and I've gotten the biggest kick out of seeing how the students have assimilated the music."The Utah Philharmonia, under the baton of Robert Baldwin, will accompany, and the production is stage directed by Larry West.
If you go...
What: Candide, Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble
Where: Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah
When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $10-$20