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In season finale, IU Opera presents unique take on Bernstein's 'Candide'

WHAT: "Candide"
WHEN: April 6, 7, 13 and 14
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave.
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday (812-855-7433), or purchase online at music.indiana.edu/opera. A discounted price is available for all students.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- How do you engage audiences in an operetta based on a satirical novella written in the 1700s by a French philosopher, where the hero takes fantastic journeys and sometimes visits with dead people?

2012 Candide
Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" is the season finale for IU Opera Theater. Joseph Mace, left, performs the role of Voltaire, while Laura Thoreson performs the role of Old Lady.
Print-Quality Photo

That's the question guest director Candace Evans used to guide her work with "Candide," the final production in Indiana University Opera Theater's 2011-12 season. The show opens at 8 p.m. April 6 in the Musical Arts Center.

While other productions have used methods such as cartoonish humor to tell the operetta's story, Evans has conceptualized an entirely new approach. The operetta tells the story of optimistic Candide's painful slide into disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences terrible hardships in the world, including natural disasters and the death of his love, Cunégonde.

Evans' approach aims to provide context for the show's sense of magical realism, including keeping Voltaire on stage during the entire performance to help ground the audience's sense of action. She also transformed members of the chorus into a type of "spirit guide" to help carry audiences alongside Candide during his soul-searching journeys around the world.

"My personal mandate was to look at the piece and say, 'If I'm in the audience, where do I disconnect?'" Evans said. "As a stage director, my job is to tell the story well. What I decided to do here is a unique conceptual approach, though we haven't altered or changed the piece. We're careful with balance: where we go, why we go and what happens when we're there. That's what is special about this version, and I've never seen it done this way before."

Evans has worked with Dallas Opera, Madison Opera, North Carolina Opera and, most recently, with Buenos Aires-based Teatro Colón's production of "La Viuda Alegre" or "The Merry Widow."

While this is Evans' debut with IU Opera Theater, the operetta itself has a long history with the university. IU Opera Theater hosted its first production of "Candide" one year after the operetta premiered in 1956. In addition, the Jacobs School of Music has strong ties with the late Leonard Bernstein, who composed the music for "Candide." Bernstein established a scholarship at the Jacobs School in 1987 and, in 2008, the school received the contents of the composer's studio as a gift from his family, including a conducting stool said to have been used by Johannes Brahms.

Conductor Kevin Noe said Bernstein's music acts as a bridge into the story and will likely feel familiar to audiences even if they've never seen the operetta.

"The music has such a comforting, Bernstein-ian, American quality to it; the songs feel as though they're in the blood somehow even if you can't remember hearing them before," he said. "There's lots of fun music and big chorus numbers, and some of them are hysterical -- but also some of such soul-crushing beauty that audiences can't help but emotionally connect."

Noe said he and Evans have worked closely to ensure those cast in the operetta use their voices to create a character-driven performance, while Evans described the Jacobs School of Music students taking part in the production -- which features a double cast -- as exceptionally gifted.

"You've got students in the chorus who sang principal roles a month ago," she said. "The skill set here is exemplary and the musicality amazing."

Arts Week Everywhere
IU Opera Theater's production of "Candide" is one of the highlights of Arts Week Everywhere, the annual celebration focused on arts on campus and in the community. Coordinated by the Office of the Provost and students in IU's Master of Arts Administration program, Arts Week Everywhere events take place throughout the month of April.

For more information about Arts Week Everywhere, visit artsweek.indiana.edu.