Bravo for 'Candide' and 'Idomeneo'; To come up with great evenings at the opera, there are no shortcuts
This city's two opera houses unveiled new productions on consecutive evenings that were not only triumphs, but proof that the faith the public has in both the Metropolitan and New York City Operas is not unfounded.Skip to next paragraph
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The City Opera has needed a major boost for quite some time. Things have been better there this year, but not consistently. Hence, the world premiere of the opera-house version of Leonard Bernstein's ''Candide'' found the company casting from strength, and inviting someone in to stage the work who had something imaginative to say - Hal Prince.
Across the plaza at Lincoln Center, the Met has followed its dazzling ''Les Contes d'Hoffman'' of last season with an equally stunning staging - the Met premiere of Mozart's ''Idomeneo,'' with Luciano Pavarotti's first attempt at a Mozart role on these shores, and the return of the gifted Jean-Pierre Ponnelle as designer-director.
The message is loud and clear. Great evenings at our opera houses happen only with great directors, designers, and superior vocal talent. When both houses cut corners, the evenings fall short of the mark. Granted, it is harder to ensure success in this jet-age day, where low risk is the norm, but both houses proved it is still possible.
It has been argued that ''Candide'' is more Broadway than opera. And it has been argued that ''Ido-meneo'' and all operas in the form known as ''opera seria'' are too static for today's audiences. But clearly, the City Opera gathering adored every minute of its evening, and even the so-often restless gala-night patrons witnessing the Mozart stayed for the four-hour duration to enjoy and applaud the artists. Both houses resonated with thundering ovations (and inexcusable booing for Mr. Ponnelle, who has become a ''controversial'' figure), not unknown in either house but quite scarce of late at the City Opera. 'Candide'
''Candide'' is more music theater than it is opera or even operetta, but it is rip-roaringly American. The edition that conductor John Mauceri patched together from the various versions of the opera kicking around should be welcome in any opera house around the world.
Bernstein's score is irrepressibly entertaining, tuneful, witty, magical. The Hugh Wheeler revised book incorporates a certain un-Voltairian cutesiness and flip quality I suspect was not a part of Lillian Hellman's original book, but that original is, apparently, gone forever. And the version of ''Candide'' seen at the City is unquestionably more reverent, less shallow, than the one Hal Prince and company devised in Brooklyn, and moved later to the Broadway Theater for some 740 performances.
Scenes deleted for the Brooklyn-Broadway presentation (which was done in one act) have been restored, and the orchestrations have been fleshed out for a full orchestra rather than a 13-piece pit band. If there is a flaw in the evening, it is that even Mr. Prince's incessant inventiveness cannot hide the slump that inhabits the second act. His directorial decisions will be familiar to Broadway theatergoers, but in the opera house they are novel and refreshing. He has the unusual ability to get a show to burst out of the frame of a proscenium arch and explode into a huge playing space.
General director Beverly Sills has cast it to perfection. David Eisler (Candide) gives an ardent performance full of candor and simplicity. His voice is ideal here, as is his boyish handsomeness - in all the finest work he has done in this house. Erie Mills, debuting as Cunegonde, was fighting the ever-present shade of Barbara Cooke, whose singing on the original cast album is the stuff of legends.