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Candide

by Chiho Iuchi

The life of U.S. conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) is being feted in Japan with the performance of his masterpiece, “Candide,” under the baton of Japanese conductor Yutaka Sado, one of Berstein’s pupils, in collaboration with Canadian director Robert Carsen.

“This satire was born from anger,” says Carsen.

Although unsuccessful when it premiered on Broadway in 1956, “Candide” achieved popularity after many revisions, including Bernstein’s own reworking. Among those variations, the version that the Chatelet Theater in Paris produced in 2006 under Carsen’s direction is the one on show in Japan.

Based on 18th-century French philosopher Voltaire’s novel, the operetta tells the adventurous tale of a young man named Candide.

Carsen sets the story in the United States during the 1950s (the era in which the operetta was composed); thus, it reflects political and popular culture of the time. The stage is transformed into a huge TV set, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century.

“Also, natural disaster is an important subject of the story,” says Carsen. “Strangely, I added a mention of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in the libretto before I knew (there would be) a performance in Japan.”

The production contains elements of classical music and opera, played by a symphony orchestra and choir, as well as jazz numbers and dance performances choreographed by Rob Ashford in an attempt to remain faithful to Bernstein’s goal of combining traditional European opera or operetta and U.S. musical theater.

Performing this time around are English actor Alex Jennings, who narrates as both Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss; solo singers from abroad, who performed in the production in Paris and in London; Produce Opera Chorus, Hyogo, comprised of Japanese singers; and the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Orchestra.

“Candide” runs until Aug. 1 at Hyogo Performing Arts Center and Aug. 6-8 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo. Tickets are ¥5,000-17,000. For details, call Ticket Space (03) 3234-9999 or visit candide.jp