Best of all Possible Vocals

hpcandide03Enlightenment philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz asserts that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” Voltaire’s answer comes in the form of fictional philosopher Dr. Pangloss, whose blithely optimistic views perpetually persist as he is continually tortured, mutilated and – unsuccessfully – killed.

“Candide” was written in response to several natural and social disasters, bitterly satirizing the philosophical and political norms of the Enlightenment’s peasants and gentry.

While the rampant manifestations of the ideals behind the Four Horsemen are hardly conventional faire for jolly song and dance, it works. Though the result is more operetta than standard musical theater, Voltaire’s own breezy delivery of atrocity is matched well by the merrily dancing feet atop an imagined sea of misery, taking his sharp criticism of social optimism one step further.

The Heights Players’ interpretation, directed by Albert Walsh and following the 1999 London National Theatre version, was no exception. (“Candide” has had almost as many revisions as character deaths.)

“Candide” – in a bildungsroman fashion – follows the life and growth of a young, illegitimate son of a Westphalian noblewoman. Truly innocent and just, the aptly-named Candide (Bernard Milan) dutifully follows the optimistic teachings of Dr. Pangloss (Tom Levy).

Also under Dr. Pangloss’ tutelage are the baron’s daughter and Candide’s secret love, Cunégonde (Alea Vorillas), her brother Maximilian (Adam Strube) and her maid, Paquette (Aubrey Antonsen).

Although life initially seems ideal for all involved, matters quickly change for the catastrophic as Candide is expelled from the castle, which is soon overtaken by Bavarian troops, leading to the exercise in disaster upon which the novella was based.

As with any operetta, the performance’s strongest suit is its music.

Following a splendidly-played overture, which has often been used as a concert piece since its composition, the respective leads face the challenging task with poise and executed grandeur.

Milan is powerful tenor and the ever-present innocence of his character was engaging without pause. Although at times over-the-top, he followed the optimistic teachings of his perpetually ill-fated tutor with conviction. Not at any moment had Milan allowed his audience to doubt that Candide truly believed that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

A welcome addition to ensemble arias and a commanding presence in his solo pieces, Milan’s soft, though booming, voice more than suffices for a coveted titular role.

Vorillas displayed astounding control of vocals, particularly during “Glitter and be Gay.” A coloratura soprano, she was able to tackle the notoriously difficult aria with visible ease and a touch of wit, swinging her ostentatious jewelry obliviously as she laughed of her despair.

Strube’s impeccable sense of comedic timing drove each of his scenes – and having the funniest lines certainly helped, though he shone during silent sequences, as well. Walking a fragile tightrope of mimicry, his silent, physical responses between lines were delivered with taste and moderation. He was neither cold nor as animated as to channel the bawdy Jim Carey. Instead, he compelled his audience to laugh at his antics and smile at his charm.

That is not to limit his ability as a vocalist, however. An accomplished bass, Strube lent his powerful pipes to the White House as a holiday soloist in 2007 and 2008.

Considerable changes have been made to the script to satisfy the budget and space, though their execution flowed seamlessly in the three-quarter thrust theater. A particularly noticeable departure is the division of the hitherto unified role of Dr. Pangloss and Voltaire.

Although without a singing part, the watchful presence and narration of Voltaire (Raymond O. Wagner) added wry sophistication. Profoundly regal, Wagner’s polished inflections as the dry-witted author of the darkly satirical “mini-classic” were particularly pleasant to the ear.

Although Leibniz would have been wrong to declare this the greatest performance in the “best of all possible worlds,” the awesome vocal prowess of its cast allows it to come within a respectable measure.

Photos by Jan VanderPutten

About Olga Privman 132 Articles
I spent a good decade dabbling in creating metaphysically-inclined narrative fiction and a mercifully short stream of lackluster poetry. A seasoned connoisseur of college majors, I discovered journalism only recently through a mock review for my mock editor, though my respect for the field is hardly laughable. I eventually plan to teach philosophy at a university and write in my free time while traveling the world, scaling mountains and finding other, more creative ways to stimulate adrenaline. Travel journalism, incidentally, would be a dream profession. Potential employers? Feel free to ruthlessly steal me away from the site. I’ll put that overexposed Miss Brown to shame.

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