Arizona Opera Presents
Photos by Cory Weaver, Courtesy of Portland Opera
Arizona Opera celebrates composer Leonard Bernstein’s centennial with the company premiere of Candide. Fast-paced, funny and philosophical, this Tony Award-winning Broadway smash is also considered an operatic masterpiece. President and CEO, Joseph Specter, responds to our questions providing his perspective on bringing this opera to Arizona and how it touches him personally.
How is presenting the Broadway smash Candide different than performing the works of Mozart or Verdi?
I believe there is continuum between opera and musical theater. And when you think of dramatic pieces like Tosca, versus comedic pieces that are lighter and airier like The Barber of Seville, Candide fits somewhere in between. The piece was born on Broadway and its music is very approachable, yet Candide has a tremendous amount of musical integrity. Leonard Bernstein was a master of balancing those elements—creating music that is inescapably catchy and substantive at the same time.
Why did Arizona Opera decide to include Candide in this year’s repertoire?
We included Candide in this year’s repertoire, first and foremost, as it’s the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth—he’s one of America’s great composers and it is wonderful to celebrate this American master and his artistic legacy. Added to that is Arizona Opera’s commitment to presenting new work, alongside the great works of the cannon of centuries past. We feel that having the most vibrant artistic program is all about getting that recipe just right—balancing the ingredients of the classic repertoire and new works in a way that inspires our community to engage with opera as fully as possible.
Do you consider this to be a good show for both opera lovers and theater lovers, as well? If so, why?
Yes, absolutely! In the current day and age, there is no such thing anymore as an opera singer doesn’t act. There was a time in previous generations when opera singers could “park and bark.” Opera singers succeeding today are ones that can both sing in an extremely beautiful and communicative way but also portray the roles they are performing in a way that is also theatrically engaging. Candide is certainly a challenging piece on both of those fronts and we are thrilled to have a cast that can really bring it to life in a way that will please devotees of both theater and opera.
How would you describe the music and singing in the production?
The piece itself straddles not only the universes of opera and musical theater but also the gap between the serious and comedic. The tragedies that befall the characters of Candide as they are progressing throughout the show are profound, and the comedic moments are over the top. The score of Candide communicates that broad range very effectively. Bernstein’s music connects immediately on an emotional level and the melodies stay with you long after you leave the theater.
What part of the production are you most looking forward to seeing and hearing?
Most definitely the finale, “Make our Garden Grow.” On a personal note—I wanted to be a rock singer when I was a teenager, and I trained as a classical singer back then so that I could ultimately become a great stadium rocker. As part of that training, I spent two summers at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, Massachusetts.Those two summers were my first time away from home—my first time being immersed in classical music for such a sustained period — and it was period of time that completely transformed my life. Both of those summers we sang “Make our Garden Grow,” in concert, including a performance at the Shed at Tanglewood. Leonard Bernstein was deeply connected to Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and we sang that piece as a tribute to Bernstein, who had just passed away the year before my first summer there. I connect the magic of that incredibly beautiful and powerful finale to this very special time in my life, and I get goose bumps every time I hear it.
For those folks who see Candide and love it, what else is coming up at Arizona Opera this season and next that they might also enjoy?
For people who love comedy combined with great singing, qualities found in Candide, our next opera coming up this spring is The Barber of Seville opening in March. For people who love visual spectacle, which is an aspect of Candide as well, we are closing our season with Das Rheingold. In the upcoming 2018/19 Season, for those who are into newer work, and aural and visual realities that are outside the traditional opera space, Maria de Buenos Aires and Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, are two operas that would be a great fit. They are being presented in our new Arizona Opera RED Series in the Fall of 2018. Really, it just depends on what elements of Candide appeal to you. I would say that you are really asking me to choose which one of my children is my favorite; I love them all….you really can’t go wrong!
February 2 – 4
Phoenix Symphony Hall