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Tonight’s concert opens with two scenes from Bernstein’s cabaret of theater works: one a smash hit from opening night, the other a piece that fought for its popular life for some 30 years. Candide predated West Side Story by only a year – the former appeared in 1956 – but in many ways, the similarities end at that. Both are based upon classic literature (Candide upon Voltaire’s work of the same name, West Side Story upon Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), but they approach their subjects in strikingly different ways: Candide struts along in the same sly manner as Voltaire’s satire, while West Side Story pulls out the full register of romantic stops. Candide is also, technically, an operetta, leaning more toward the classical forms of opera than the more relaxed methods of musical theater; the format suits Voltaire’s characters perfectly, their fancies and foibles supported by Bernstein’s alternately catty and melodramatic score.
The original production, set by Bernstein and librettist Lillian Hellman, was not a success; it ran only 73 nights before being pulled by its producer, Ethel Linder Reiner. But after three decades and no fewer than seven different edited versions, the tale of Candide and Cunegonde has finally reached a happy ending, and the latest revision has been revived on an increasing number of stages big and small.
“Make Our Garden Grow” is the closing number from the operetta. After a journey that has brought young lovers Candide and Cunegonde from Westphalian idyll to disaster at sea, to Spanish bordello, the ravages of war, and back again, the cast unites at a simple farm to start anew. John Corigliano’s setting for violin and orchestra begins by echoing the dizzying circumstances leading up to that point; the operetta’s main theme (from which is derived this closing song) appears in a whimsical burlesque before evaporating into the more peaceful opening from the original score. The violin’s simple melody leads into a cleverly inserted cadenza, impassioned yet peaceful, before joining the rest of the orchestra in a final chorus. The piece sneaks away suddenly with another shadow of the burlesque in the woodwinds, reminding the listener never to forget Voltaire’s – and Bernstein’s – sense of whimsy.
- Jessica Schilling has written for The Denver Post and the Boulder Daily Camera and is Assistant Editor of Hollywood Bowl Magazine.