Operatic optimism

Candide (Opera Queensland)

QPAC, The Playhouse

July 23 – August 1

From the creator of “West Side Story” and based on Voltaire’s classic novel, Leonard Bernstein’s comic operetta “Candide” combines musical theatre, opera and satire in an original and a thoroughly entertaining show of artistry of so many kinds. The story is an epic one that takes audiences on a trip around the world as our eternally optimistic, in spite of extreme misfortune, hero Candide (David Hobson), initially banished from his baronial home, seeks reunion with his love Cunegonde (Amelia Farrugia)


With war, murder, shipwreck and the Spanish Inquisition, there is much narrative for audiences to absorb in what is a fusion of philosophy and fun, however, the fact that the opera is sung in English ensures that the story retrains its upmost importance, to the point that it appears more like musical than opera. Leonard Bernstein’s score is brilliant and filled with memorably moments such as Cunegonde’s Act One peppy Parisian coloratura aria, ‘Glitter Be Gay’, complete with the bejewelled soprano on swing and glitter cannon sparkle. The show’s final number too, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’ leaves audiences on an undeniable high courtesy of its joyous, soul-stirring magic of music and voices combined.


Under the leadership of its energetic conductor Paul Kildea, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra is superb in bringing Bernstein’s beautiful and dramatic score to life. And it is wonderful to see them being showcased on stage amongst the action, rather than hidden away in the pit. Indeed, the staging is impressive, utilising, as it does, the depths of The Playhouse Theatre’s space, yet simultaneously conveying a sense of intimacy through the use of a thrust stage platform.

thrustWith a golden path (representing Candide’s journey) stretching from the depths to front of the stage and a two-tiered scaffold ‘skyscraper’ occupying place behind the bulk of the orchestra, there is much of interest on stage. However, what most effectively brings the story’s journey around the world to such vivid life is the lighting, particularly in Act Two’s South American segment, in which the warmth of Buenos Aires is realised complete with waterfall from the rafters. Costumes also aide in presentation of a strong visual identity, with a range of textures creating a striking, sumptuous aesthetic feast.


Australian tenor David Hobson does a sensitive job in the role of the buoyant hero Candide, with agile and high-flying vocals that can equally linger with the strings in more melancholy musical numbers. As Cunegonde, Amelia Farrugia is simply delightful and her sparkling soprano reaches the heights with ease. It is Brisbane theatre stalwart Bryan Probets, however, who puts on the greatest show in his multi-roles, however, particularly as the story’s narrator. Whether singing song of his syphilis or showcasing a sexy Spanish dance, his comic talents are always engaging.


Hilarious too is Christine Johnston (of The Kransky Sisters fame) in her realisation of the quirky, scene-stealing Old Lady, complete with comical limp. Supported as they are by strong character roles, most notably Sarah Murr as Paquette and Jon Maskell as Maximilian, students of Dr Pangloss’s philosophy that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds’, there appears to be no weak link in the show’s artistic lineup, including the Opera Queensland Chorus which aids in bringing the big numbers to such glorious life.


Opera Q’s production of “Candide” is a real triumph guaranteed to have you leaving on a hopeful high with a smile on your face and a melody stuck in your heart. Purists may be bothered by its musicalness, however, this allows the show to serve as ideal introduction to opera for the uninitiated. Its musical theatre feel, English songs and focus on story combine to give it an accessibility above and beyond traditional operatic fare to even those who think they don’t like the genre. And bringing new audiences to an art form can only be commended.

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