Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Candidly in Paris

I spent New Year's réveillon in Paris, and le talk of town was the Robert Carsen production of Bernstein's Candide at the Theatre du Chatelet. Praised by the French press and sold-out to packed houses, even my friend Rene's mother had heard about it and wanted to see it, so I had no choice but go check it out. We went to the last performance of the Chatelet run, on Dec. 31, and tickets were expensive and hard to find. Apparently, many Parisians had the same idea we did: see the show, then afterwards walk down the Seine to watch le feux d'artifice displays.

A few flashes of genuine insight at times, Carsen's production is very creative in a Mark Morris sort of way -- even the use of video at the beginning reminds one of the Hard Nut. But unlike Morris, the production feels gimmicky because it takes itself too seriously. Frankly, La Scala did this turkey a favor by creating the cancellation controversy, for their action elevated this Candide non-event to the level of an international headline.

The entire stage is framed by a giant vintage TV set, and the show opens with Voltaire giving the audience the finger. The production's key shtick is the stylized American iconography. Poking fun at the U.S. always goes well with European audiences. The White House, Bush, Jackie O, even an archetypal Lewinsky-type intern show up on stage, while Cunegonde's "Glitter and Be Gay" is staged as a pantomime of Marilyn Monroe in "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." The much publicized "politicians in underwear" scene is just a bit plain too silly, as opposed to offensive. Carsen's greatest moment of brilliance was at the end, when the great "Make our garden grow" ensemble was sung against a video projection of smoke stacks, polution, desertification, melting glaciers and a shrinking planet earth.

The evening would have been much more satisfying had the musical performances been stronger. With a provincial sounding pick-up band led by American expat John Axelrod, William Burden's Candide was overmiked, while Anna Christy's Cunegonde was downright grating.

© 2007 C. Chang

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