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CSO gives us a Masterworks finale to remember with Candide

Candide? It Still Works

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The Charleston Symphony, in conspiracy with their fine chorus and a terrific cast of soloists, delivered a glittering concert performance of Candide — Leonard Bernstein's comic operetta — at the Gaillard last Saturday. It brought the Charleston Symphony's headline Masterworks series to a celebratory close.

Alas, no room here to regurgitate the preposterous plot — beyond a bunch of unlikely characters spouting absurd philosophies (and racy language) as they undertake impossible travels in pursuit of senseless goals ... oh, and several of them get killed and mysteriously resurrected along the way.

But it's chock-full of biting political and social satire that still rings true a half-century after it was conceived — and even centuries after Voltaire's like-titled novella that served as Bernstein's model.

The only other thing you need to know is that Bernstein and friends first put the piece together in the wake of the 1950's McCarthy hearings. Would it surprise you to know that the Spanish Inquisition is among our bad guys here?

Following the sprightly overture, the soloists took turns with the chorus as the piece unfolded. The surreal plot would've been hard to follow without the ongoing narration — drolly delivered by Evan Parry. His text was apparently a flexible one, as the evening's many lampoons included digs at Rush Limbaugh and the current mortgage crisis. The happy couple even gets to "make their garden grow" on Johns Island, where they finally get to settle down.

The soloists were more than up to the demands of their roles. Tenor Thomas Cooley was in fine vocal fettle — and he captured the title character's idealistic, but clueless nature very nicely. Special kudos go to soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, who managed the demanding role of Cunegonde (the malleable heroine) despite having come down with a bad cold the day before. Her low end sounded a bit weak here and there, but she still nailed her big coloratura passages. The evening's best comic instincts (and some of the best singing) belonged to mezzo Jennifer Luiken, whose bawdy portrayal of the "Old Lady" was just right.

Forgive my neglect of the various supporting roles and many bit parts — suffice it to say that none of them dropped their balls. The meaty chorus delivered their often wacky musical commentary with sonorous skill. The orchestra sounded brilliant, rising to the tricky score's every demand.

Conductor David Stahl (a Bernstein protégé) has this music in his blood — and, with this classy performance, he saw to it that yet another terrific Masterworks season went out in style.

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