On With The Show!

Special Features   On With The Show!
Despite the fact that Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture, which the Philharmonic has played more than 150 times, is a signature piece for the Orchestra, this season's performances of the complete "Comic Operetta in Two Acts," which debuted on Broadway in 1956, is a Philharmonic first.
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein

Two figures who are crafting this special event, Lonny Price, the production'sdirector, and Marin Alsop, its conductor, bring to it personal connections with the composer, the Orchestra's late Conductor Laureate.

Mr. Price is familiar to Philharmonic audiences from the production of Sweeney Todd, which he directed in May 2000, and that lives on through a Grammy-nominated cast album. Although Mr. Price has never directed Candide, he is no stranger to it: one of his earliest jobs, as a teenager, was working for director Hal Prince during the show's 1974 revival at the Broadway Theatre. Around the same time he became friends with Bernstein's son, Alexander, and got to know his famous father: "Bernstein was just an amazing genius," says Price. "Who could top him? He was quite impressive, both offstage and on. I treasure the time I spent with him."

Marin Alsop studied conducting with Bernstein, and is widely known as one of his protégés. He taught her that "conducting is all about communicating with your musicians, with your audience, and being an advocate for the composer. And," she adds, "telling stories. There was always a moral to his story, always a positive message. Candide is hysterically positive."

Both Ms. Alsop and Mr. Price are delighted by the cast of the Philharmonic's performances. The role of Cunegonde, the title character's love interest, who sings the famous showstopper "Glitter and Be Gay," is "perfect for Kristin Chenoweth," the director says. "She really has that coloratura, and she can be funny. The keynote of this piece is light and funny."

The cast, drawn from the worlds of opera and Broadway, also features Paul Groves in the title role, Patti LuPone as the Old Lady and Sir Thomas Allen as Pangloss. But the biggest star of this production is the Philharmonic itself. "That glorious Orchestra!" Mr. Price enthuses. "Its presence is very exciting in this hybrid 'concert/performance.' There seems to be a great deal of interest in this comparatively new form," he adds. "It makes the audience use its imagination. With great musicians and great performers doing great material, you need very little else."

Ms. Alsop has also had experience with combining orchestra and action before, and knows the challenges she, as the conductor, will face: "Sightlines and the proximity of the musicians — I can't get too far away from them or it feels disconnected." But it's well worth the trouble, she says. "These days, when people talk about a virtual orchestra — thinking that live musicians are replaceable — it's important for people to see that they're not replaceable; they're really vital to the success of a dramatic production."

Ms. Alsop and Mr. Price both eagerly anticipate returning to the Philharmonic after their respective debuts, both made in the 1999-2000 season. Of his debut, with Sweeney Todd, Mr. Price recalls, "The musicians were very accommodating as lights were in their eyes and actors at their elbows — they couldn't have been nicer to us."

For Ms. Alsop, this Candide is a homecoming: "It's a fairy-tale experience. I was born in New York City. Bernstein was my hero. Every single record I bought was by the New York Philharmonic. I'm a real fan, and have a real passion for this Orchestra. Doing Candide in the place where Bernstein was so embraced and where he made his home is enormously special to me. It's not just another guest conducting gig. It's a reunion in many, many ways."

Monica Parks is a Publications Editor at the New York Philharmonic.

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