If you’ve seen CANDIDE performed in full four+ times, you’ve likely seen four+ different versions—wherever you are. With a libretto originally conceived by Lillian Hellman as a way to draw parallels between the Grand Inquisition and the McCarthy Era, a long Who’s Who list of musical theater greats has added their imprimatur to later iterations, including Bernstein himself , and also Stephen Sondheim who was billed as one of the lyricists for this particular production sponsored by CAFeBUDAPEST.
Part of the charm of seeing an American Classic—Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide on the occasion of his would-be 100th birthday—on Hungarian soil, paradoxically, is that if you don’t speak Hungarian you too would have spent much time trying to follow the action.
There were many guideposts for those who don’t speak Hungarian as to where we were in the familiar story. For example, Candide (János Szemenyei) had been playing with a slingshot to remind us of what a child he is. Then he spies Cunagonde ( Antonia Dunjko ) and his toy becomes a standing at full attention erection.
Actually, in the lead up to that moment and from the very start every audience member – Hungarian or foreign born — was likely already on high alert. An open stage with a few sails as decoration (Set Design: Erzsébet Túri) greeted as you entered the theater space with no sign of orchestra. Once the doors closed, the orchestra filtered in and sat in the back of the stage—a much smaller orchestra than the New York Philharmonic that one reads still performs the Candide Overture conductor-less in homage to the great and missed Bernstein, their longtime conductor as well as the composer of this work. When Conductor Máté Hámori arrives the crowd gave him a warm welcome, and we realize his baton is an old friend to most in the audience. The chorus filters in above, wearing not one color, but a studied mix of blues and blacks.
How welcoming to hear the so familiar Overture and in a space that rightfully claims superior acoustics!
But wait—is the violin playing a part that is usually played by oboes? Did they really play the whole thing??
Not much time to linger over these or any questions because the stentorian voice of Peter Kalman as our host/narrator—and later Dr. Pangloss, Dr. Voltaire among other roles—arrests us. We don’t have the slightest idea what he is saying, but his persona is stage presence on steroids.
When that so funny song Best of All Possible Worlds begins ,we realize his booming orator voice is even better singing.
But wait!! Did they cut that funny part about why people get divorced if marriage is so great?
And so it was throughout the performance, where the English-speaking only audience members lapped up the familiar Bernstein songs, albeit somewhat abbreviated versions, while the Hungarians heard long narrations that one presumed explained the story lines of Voltaire’s treatise.
How fun to be on the hunt for clues to the action and making sure we didn’t’ miss anything! Paradoxically, not understanding the language made the songs in English more enjoyable than they already are—oases of familiarity—and a chance to savor the Hungarian translations above of the English.
In this writer’s view, the cast of 16 singers—most playing multiple roles—sang perfectly in English and showed great acting skills as well that transcended language barriers. As a stranger to the Hungarian tongue, it was easy to observe that impish-faced János Szemenyei who played Candide has such a different timbre to his voice when speaking lines than when he is singing. His singing voice is both distinctive and soothing, which especially stood out in the Make Our Garden Grow finale.
CAFeBUDAPEST is a two+ week celebration of dance, music, theater, visual arts and other cultural offerings in Budapest, Hungary. To find out more about next year’s festival, bookmark the CAFeBUDAPEST website.
All photos by Janos Posztos - review and slider
Budapest production of Candide, October 13, 2018
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Stage Adaptation: Hugh Wheeler
Lyrics: Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche
Broadway Producer: Harold Prince
Set: Erzsebet Turi
Costumes: Tunde Kemenesi
Dramaturg: Gergely Zoldi
Assistant Choirmaster: Daniel Erdelyi
Conductor: Mate Hamori
Choreographer: Balazs Vincze
Assistant Director: Andras Aczel
Artistic Assistant: Eteika Polgar
Director: Gyorgy Bohm
Cast: Peter Kalman, Janos Szemenyei, Dunjko Wiedemann, Zsofia Kalnay, Tamas Tarjanyi, Janos Hajnal, Etelka Polgar, Martin Vincze, Andras Suto, Otto Magocs, Mate Hamori, Benjamin Szegedi, Mario Mayo, Istvan Kristof
Click here to read the Picture this Post review of Music Theater Works Candide, 2017.
Soprano Antonia Dunjko absolutely delighted with her triple threat charms, and especially when she puts on glittery red ballet shoes that Dorothy might have wanted to get back home from Oz, and then goes Temps levé sauté over and over to express being Glittery and Gay.
One mixed note perhaps. A gaggle of dancers dressed in corset type bodices that gave them a unisex look would periodically come to the stage to help with transitions or don scarves or masks to help define geography. For this writer, who generally loves the choreography added to operas, they were not so much a value add. Often they made the stage feel cramped beyond its max occupancy level.
Reflection of CAFeBUDAPEST Investment in Making Culture Accessible to All
That said, it simply astounds that so much work by the entire cast and production team was apparent for a performance that was seen on only this one night!
CAFeBUDAPEST is clearly investing in making the arts of today’s Hungary accessible to locals and visitors alike. It’s one reason why an October visit to Budapest feels anything but low season.