Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's SummerFest ended on a high note this Sunday with the festival's pitch-perfect final showing of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Based on Voltaire's Candide ou L'Optimisme, the comic operetta follows Candide, a wide-eyed optimist who, once banished from his homeland of Westphalia for "canoodling" with his beloved Cunegonde, travels the world over with a bevy of inimitable companions. The two lovers are eventually reunited and set off on a journey to the New World, satiated by hope and advice from the seemingly wise and all-knowing Dr. Pangloss.
This Candide's standout performance is by far that of Pittsburgh native Abigail Dueppen, who dazzles with her performance as the ditzy-happy Cunegonde. Her rendition of "Glitter and Be Gay" quite literally stopped the show on Sunday with a prolonged – and fully merited – round of vigorous applause.
"At first glance Cunegonde seems quite simple and predictable," Ms. Dueppen said of her character. "However, if anyone was put through her circumstances in real life, I highly doubt they could ever maintain her optimistic outlook." Dueppen certainly infuses her Cunegonde with more than enough verve to offset the character's surface simplicity.
James FitzGerald's take on the show's fearless narrator, encompassed by the dual-purpose roles of Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss, is also of particular note, along with Countertenor Andrey Nemzer's daring turn as the Old Lady. Though at times hard to fully understand because of his character's thick Russian accent, Nemzer certainly gives the most comic performance of the production as he flits around the stage in a role previously played by Irra Petina, Andrea Martin, and Patti LuPone, among others.
Joseph M. Gourley's set provides the perfect backdrop for such a matchless gaggle of characters, an ever-wandering group who can never seem to stay in one place for too long, whether that be because of a natural disaster (read: volcanic eruption) or the sudden need to flee (read: accidental murder). His cartoonish woodland illustrations and beautiful proscenium design "[accommodate] action taking place in many locations...as the characters practically travel around the world," notes production director Scott Wise. Christopher Popowich's artful lighting design also helps to convey the mood of each particular location – whether that be an auto da fé or a transatlantic boat voyage – with a host of rich reds, deep blues, and more.
The production is also complemented by a rather large ensemble, many of whom are participants in Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's applaudable Young Artists program. While these bright young performers bring life to a handful of scenes in Candide, perhaps none is more memorable or tremendous than the finale, "Make Our Garden Grow." As each member of the company comes together in the show's concluding moments, faces the audience, and sings, "And let us try, before we die, to make some sense of life...we're neither pure, nor wise, nor good...we'll do the best we know," it's enough to send a chill – or ten – down your spine. In the best of all possible ways.
Billed as "three weeks of world class opera, music and merriment," Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's SummerFest played its final performance on July 15. The festival featured three different full-length shows, plus a late-night cabaret series as well as a "Mozart Camp" for adult music enthusiasts. Candide opened Saturday, July 7 at the Rauh E. Rauh Theater at The Hillman Center for Performing Arts with performances July 7, 13, and 15. SummerFest plans to return in 2013.
Kathleen Brandt, Jim Critchfield, and Joseph Gaines