Mercoledi Musicale

Yesterday I mentioned that the late Richard Wilbur wrote the lyrics for at least two of the musical numbers in Leonard Bernstein‘s operetta Candide. Further investigation revealed that the smorgasbord of lyricists who worked on this enigmatic work he was the entrée with John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman (who also wrote the libretto) and Bernstein himself providing side dishes, and the odd garnish.  At one point James Agate contributed material which went unused.   In subsequent metamorphoses additional lyrics have been provided by Stephen Sondheim, John Mauceri, and John Wells.

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The Playbill from then 1978 production I saw at the Broadway Theatre.  A very free-flow production as I recall.

After it’s initial Broadway failure in 1956 – a failure attributed in large part to Hellman’s libretto – the piece underwent a rewrite for off-Broadway by Hugh Wheeler in the 1970s.  This was later expanded for use by opera companies – including a production at Stratford in 1978.   A further adaptation was made under Bernstein’s supervision for what he considered the “final version” in 1989.  However Wheeler’s book was to be rewritten once again by John Caird for the National Theatre in 1999.  And so it continues – more than 60 years after it’s premiere is seems that Candide is still a work in progress.

Notably little of what Wilbur contributed has been altered in any of these versions including the two numbers I mentioned yesterday.

Any coloratura soprano worth her high E-flat (there are three of them) from Edita Guberova to Madeline Kahn (yes my dear our beloved Madeline was a trained opera singer) has sung – and in some cases recorded – “Glitter and Be Gay”.  However wonderful they may have been nothing can beat the lady for whom it was written.  Here’s the late Barbara Cook as Cunegonde bemoaning her very well-kept state!

Voltaire’s novelette ends with Candide rejecting his tutor Pangloss’s insistence that all the trials and tribulations have turned out for the best by necessity. Instead he simply insists that “we must cultivate our garden” (il faut cultiver notre jardin). From this phrase Wilbur and Bernstein build an inspiring and inspirted choral finale that just avoids being maudlin – strangely the only performance I have ever heard where the scales are tipped in that direction is conducted by Bernstein at his most sanctimonious. There are several performances out there but I think this one from the BBC Proms manages to capture all the words and avoid any hint of sentimentality.

We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow…
And make our garden grow.

Richard Wilbur (1921-2017)

On this day in 1648: Boston Shoemakers form the first North American labor organization.

Mercoledi Musicale

When he posted that old Pete Seeger number “Inch by Inch, Row by Row” last Friday Sling got me to thinking – a dangerous thing at the best of times. I realized how often the analogy of a garden appears in world literature and cultures. It’s often equated to Paradise – sometimes a perfumed bower of roses, other times a place filled with plentiousness or sometimes just a simple plot of land. But a garden and gardening has grown to represent what is harmonious and good in life.

In his satiric novella Candide, Voltaire ends his hero’s optimistic foray into the world with the recognition that the sole philosophy he and his friends can live by is to build shelter, bring warmth to the home, put daily bread on the table and cultivate the land.

When Lillian Hellman, John LaTouche and Leonard Bernstein transferred Voltaire’s tale to the Broadway stage their Candide was a box office flop but the music was always highly regarded. Seventeen years later it was to become a success with a rewritten book and a revised score and has since been produced both as an operetta and a musical more than any other Bernstein piece with the possible exception of West Side Story.

Bernstein’s operetta ends with Candide, his foolish love Cunegunde and their friends deciding that, like their counter parts in Voltaire’s novella, they must simply “Make Our Garden Grow.”

I’m afraid the one really good version that’s up on YouTube has dreadful sound but here is a reasonable performance by the late Jerry Hadley (who sadly took his life last year) and Renée Flemming (before she became Rennaaay)from a Lincoln Centre performance. Things go a bit astray at the end but it still has an impact.

We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood,
And make our garden grow.
And make our garden grow.

09 luglio – Santa Veronica