Like Voltaire's hero, this production of Candide has been about a bit before finally docking at the London Coliseum – and caused not a little trouble on the way. One would hardly know it from the wildly enthusiastic reception it was given, but regular exposure to Spitting Image has probably taken something of the satiric edge off of its impact for a London audience.
Robert Carsen's approach is large scale in all senses, filling the stage with chorus and dancers, as well as numerous changes of set. In an era of mono-settings and austerity across much of opera this is a welcome change.
Casting is from strength with broad characterisations but fine vocal performances from Toby Spence in the lead and Anna Christy as Cunegonde. Alex Jennings holds the evening together as Voltaire/Pangloss and proves he can sing as well as act.
A large cast of regular ENO singers provide all the smaller parts, and it is good to welcome back Beverley Klein, magnificent as ever, as the Old Lady.
Rumon Gamba started well in the pit but the orchestra rarely makes the impact its size should allow. Partly this must be due to the amplification. While understandable in the work, by the Press night the balance was not ideal and good voices often sounded courser that they actually are. We know from Lucia that Anna Christy has no problem filling the house so why amplify Glitter and be Gay?
It shows how quickly things move in the political world that much of the cutting edge of Robert Carsen's production has been blunted by time. The five 'kings' are now almost all out of office and the final ecological point seems over obvious. Thankfully, many stops along the way are sumptuous enough in themselves to make up for this, particularly the delights of we are women and Pangloss' patter songs.
In sum, a success, and an audience with a far lower age profile. At least this should please the Arts Council!
Photos by Catherine Ashmore
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