Volume 96, Issue 76
Thursday, February 13, 2003

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Opera without the "fat lady"

Music by: Leonard Bernstein
Libretto by: Lillian Hellman and Richard Wilbur

By Nicole Laidler
Gazette Staff

Niru Somayajula/Gazette
PIMPIN' AND STYLIN'... YES THIS IS INDEED THE HIGH LIFE. UWOpera proves that they've got what it takes in this year's production of Candide.
If your idea of opera is a fat lady wearing a horned helmet caterwauling to the rafters, it's time to let UWOpera change your mind. This year's production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide is an opera that can be more accurately described as a musically sophisticated Broadway show. Viewed as a potential threat to public safety when it first opened in 1956, it has since attained the status of a cult musical, and with good reason.

Based on the 18th century satire by Voltaire, Candide combines madcap comedy with poignant insights into the vanity and inanity of life. The story begins in the idealized setting of castle Thunder-Ten-Tronk in Westphalia. Dr. Pangalos (Ernie Redekop) teaches his pupils – the guileless Candide (Graham Thompson), the virginal Cunegonde, her vain brother Maximillian and their worldly maid Paquette – that this is indeed the best of all possible worlds and that things cannot be other than what they are.

The plot quickly evolves into a caper of Baroque proportions that will test Candide's belief in his master's teachings. After his love for Cunegonde is discovered, he is run out of Westphalia, tortured by the Inquisition and forced to commit murder to defend Cunegonde's honour.

The non-stop action presents obvious staging challenges, but the UWOpera production team handles them beautifully. A minimal amount of stage props, along with the strategic use of colour and lighting, are used to maximum effect. The members of the chorus join in to complete the illusion of rough ocean passages and South American dance halls.

The talented cast of Candide is a testament to the strength of the faculty of music's vocal program. Thompson plays the wonderfully naive Candide, who tries to convince himself that his misfortunes are indeed for the best in the moving lament "It Must Be So."

Sasha Bataligin is delightful as the smarmy Governor of Buenos Aires, and hilarious as the double-crossing Dutchman. His diction is impeccable, even when singing with a German accent.

As the dignified Dr. Pangalos, Redekop is the perfect comic foil for the outrageously eccentric Old Lady with one buttock, played by Vicky Vlassis. A seasoned survivor, the Old Lady meets every new challenge head on. On her arrival in South America, she trades her dowdy coat for a red-hot dress and proclaims "I Am Easily Assimilated."

The UWOpera orchestra, under conductor James McKay, is truly successful at bringing life to Bernstein's tuneful score. The orchestra highlights the humour inherent in the music, and handles the intricate rhythms and instrumental interplay with panache.

Candide is an excellent choice for this year's UWOpera production, providing a perfect dramatic and musical fit for the young performers.

Candide runs at Talbot Theatre Feb. 12-16. Tickets are $15 for students and seniors and $25 regular price, and are available at the door or through the Grand Theatre box office (672-8800).


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