Thursday, April 10, 2008


Tiny conversation while going in to see Candide:
B. I should have worn something shiny.
U. Why is that?
B. You know. Glitter and be gay.
U. Not to worry. In the best of all possible worlds just wear what you want.

What a day. Sunday in the Park with George followed by Candide at the New York City Opera. Sondheim and Bernstein worked together on West Side Story, and I read in the paper that Sondheim helped with one of the revisions to Candide. Their work is not unrelated, but as artists they're very different.

For one thing Bernstein is a far better composer and has a lark going around the world with Candide doing styles of music for the different cultures he visits. The music is lively and fun, but perhaps the world is still not ready for Voltaire.

The musical Candide is based on Voltaire's novel Candide which is in turn based on the philosophy that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire goes to great lengths to ridicule the idea and completely fails. I get the feeling Bernstein understands the purpose of optimism, was himself a great optimist, and moves his characters cheerfully from one disaster to another. Perhaps it's his fault the whole thing is so unrelentingly optimistic.

I think the failure of Candide is due to its level of sophistication. Are we ready to ridicule the inquisition? I'm not sure we are. And what is one to make of a guiding philosophy where we build our house and make our garden grow?

How far from that is George Seurat's daughter who wishes us to have babies and make art? Great-grandchild George is advised not to worry about success but just to go on following his vision.

I am entertained by Bernstein, but I am genuinely challenged by Sondheim. Art lies not in the money, modern life's only preoccupation, but in the vision.

No comments: