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A Centennial Celebration
Candide is based on the 1758 novella by Voltaire, which satirized the fashionable philosophies of the day, particularly the tortures inflicted by the Catholic Church on supposed heretics during the Inquisition. Noting parallels to the controversial activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which sought to root out Communism in the United States, playwright Lillian Hellman proposed to Bernstein in 1953 that they adapt the novella for the musical theater. Laboring with lyricist John LaTouche and then poet Richard Wilbur, Hellman and Bernstein completed the operetta in 1956, and it was premiered in New York on December 1 to mixed reviews. Despite the initial lackluster reception, the recorded soundtrack managed to thrive. The operetta has also undergone multiple revisions, including a reworking by Bernstein himself in 1989, and has since found its place in the musical theater canon.
“Glitter and Be Gay,” a bright, coloratura aria sung by Cunegonde towards the end of Act I, is arguably the most famous work from the operetta. The song has become a favorite for sopranos, including soloist Michelle Areyzaga, who is well known for her interpretation of Bernstein’s music. She frequently performs his works, most recently as part of the centennial celebration, and has herself portrayed Cunegonde onstage.
The only piece on the program that does not feature vocalists is Williams’ lively variations on themes by Bernstein, To Lenny! To Lenny! (For New York). This one-movement work was composed as a tribute to Bernstein and premiered at his 70th birthday gala at the Tanglewood Festival in August of 1988. The careful listener will pick up snippets of “New York, New York” from On the Town, “America” from West Side Story, and very subtle references to “Happy Birthday to You” in the rousing climax.
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