BOSTON — CANDIDE
Written by Voltaire.
Music by Leonard Bernstein.
Staged by the Boston Lyric Opera at Emerson Majestic Theatre.
Innocents abroad have become a hot commodity lately; witness the popularity of ''Forrest Gump,'' a movie that follows a naive young man across 30 years of American history. Another such young man, who predates Forrest by at least two centuries, was named Candide, and he was the product of French philosopher and writer Voltaire's imagination.
In the 1950s, Candide's escapades were put to music by composer Leonard Bernstein. In fantastical scenes, the hero Candide crosses mountains and seas, escapes wars and inquisitions in search of that ''Best of All Possible Worlds.'' The Boston Lyric Opera is currently staging the comic operetta, named after its quintessential innocent, ''Candide.'' The production marks a step forward for the opera company, as well as a welcome reminder of Bernstein's musical genius.
In the composer's notes, excerpted in the program, Bernstein explains that with ''Candide'' Voltaire was satirizing a philosophy prevalent in his time, which held: ''Everything that is, is right.'' Voltaire was dismayed that this philosophy promoted a deep fatalism, which robbed individuals of initiative: If everything that happened was exactly as it was meant to be, why bother? Voltaire used his story to lash out at established authority, blaming royalty, merchants, and the military, but most of all, religious leaders for perpetuating this complacency.
The lad Candide possesses a charmingly simple faith, but he comes to relinquish naivete in favor of practical, unadorned wisdom: After his hardships, Candide concludes that the search for Eldorado -- where all his dreams will come true - is useless. He chooses instead to work with what he and his love, Cunegonde, already have in ''We'll build our house, and chop our wood, and make our garden grow.''
The Boston Lyric Opera's presentation is delightful. The principle singers have both fine voices and acting talent, with Richard Clement (as Candide) and Lisa Saffer (Cunegonde) standing out. Clement's gentle tenor on the song ''It Must Be So'' trailed off tenderly, and Saffer's spritely ''Glitter and Be Gay'' was an audience favorite. The chorus brought energy and a solid supporting sound to the production.
* 'Candide' has two more performances, March 17 and 19, at the Emerson Majestic Theatre.