David Eisler is HGO's bewildered Candide in the colorful /
□ HGO's 'Candide' Is
Houston Grand Opera. Candide' by Leonard Bernstein. Joseph McKee (Voltaire/Pangloss/etc.), David
Eisler (Candide), Erie Mills (Cunegonde). Maris Clement (Paquette). William Parcher (Maximilian), Dana
Krueger lOld Lady). Chorus and Houston Symphony
Orchestra. John DeMain. conductor.
By Peter Derksen
If HGO keeps on presenting operas as well
done as their Barber of Seville and Candide, audiences here might catch on to the
possibility that going to the opera can be a
delight rather than a gruesome chore. The
adaptation of the Broadway musical to
the operatic stage was an unqualified success. The dozens of subscribers who left
their seats empty, perhaps in memory of
Mr. Bernstein's less successful premiere of
A Quiet Place last season, did themselves
a great disservice. You could go a long way
before finding better singing, acting and
Even by the standards of opera, Can-
dide's plot is hopelessly complicated. Voltaire wrote the original tale over 200 years
ago, taking sides in a philosophical battle
then raging, and which represented one of
the last stands of organized religion in the
mainstream of Western thought. The
issues: "why do bad things happen to good
people?" and "how may one attain true
happiness in life?" are of some interest
even today, and, in true French fashion,
are much too important to be treated with
anything less than comedy.
Harold Prince's direction was dazzling.
Every chance he gets, he wreaks havoc
with conventional theatrical boundaries.
The stage is open to our view all the time.
Characters stroll through the audience,
pop up in the orchestra pit, dangle from
doorways, help each other with costume
changes in center stage. The entire production is a "show within a show," presented as a carnival attraction at a
Victorian fair, with the crowd of onlookers
doubling as the chorus. The "fairgrounds"
were the frame for Candide's 23 scenes,
which took us, among other places, to
Westphalia, Lisbon, the mid-Atlantic,
Cartagena, El Dorado, a desert island,
Constantinople, and rural France.
Everything in the opera moves at breakneck pace. Only singers who can act and
dance well can keep up, and, with insignificant exceptions, everyone on stage sang
the witty and tricky lyrics clearly and
Joseph McKee did more than double
duty as Voltaire, whose narration binds
the whole plot, the eternally optimistic Dr.
Pangloss, and several lesser roles. The
transitions from his high-pitched Mr.
Magoo Voltaire voice and mellow baritone
singing in the other parts was impressive,
despite occasional vocal problems.
(Among other things, he was called upon
to pop up on the podium, lead the orchestra
for a few bars, change character, then hop
out into the audience and dash onstage.)
Erie Mills stole the show (vocally) as
Cunegonde. She tossed off the high coloratura in Glitter and Be Gay with ease and
precision, and sang the lyric passages
smoothly and comfortably. As with
Teresa Stratas, we have a superb actress-
/musician whose voice is unfortunately
too small for live performances of many of
the roles to which her talents entitle her;
the full range of her abilities will probably
be revealed only in the recording stuidio.
David Eisler, indeed the "handsome
young tenor" promised in HGO's promotions, sang and acted the naif Candide
splendidly. His voice, pure and strong,
was well suited to the music. He underacted perfectly, showing the appropriate
mild bewilderment and despair when
called for; this is not a role calling for bold
drama. He was the blank slate upon which
all the other characters and actions
To give proper credit to the supporting
singers, chorus and support staff would
require 10 times this space.
In general, the orchestra played well,
though there were serious difficulties in
the brass during the overture. John
DeMain kept the bubbling music moving
Whole books, and even operas(!), have
been devoted to arguing over which is
more important in opera: words or music.
With this performance of Candide, we
have a third candidate: the production. We
are reminded that opera is theatre with
music added; those who feel otherwise
have, thanks to technology, the option of
sitting home with their stereos. Candide is
great theatre with some of the most sparkling words and music to be found in all of
opera. It is Bernstein's masterpiece, and it
is unfortunate that our culture does not
rate comedy as highly as tragedy, obliging
geniuses of the former to consolidate their
reputations by dabbling in the latter.
From Rossini to Woody Allen, the results
are not always favorable. Bernstein's
composing talent is much better suited to
the bright side of life than to the dreary.
Candide plays at Jones Hall through
Dec. 8. Don't miss it.
□ 'Hamlet' and
'Macbeth' Given Bizarre
Turn at Chocolate
By Joe L. Watts
British playwright Tom Stoppard (Rosen-
crantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) has
put together more of his historical spoofer-
ies, and Shakespeare is the target again.
In this case, it's two interrelated one-act
comedies with the unusual title Dogg's
Hamlet, Cahoot s Macbeth being given its
Houston premiere at Chocolate Bayou
Dogg's Hamlet. Cahoot's Macbeth was
first presented in 1979 for the inauguration of Inter-Action's British American
Repertory Company (BARC). Dogg's
Hamlet extends and combines two previous pieces, Dogg's Out Pet and The
Dogg's Troupe 15-Minute Hamlet, which
were written for Ed Berman (Prof. Dogg),
director of the Inter-Action Troupe. The
inspiration for Dogg's Hamlet came from
Stoppard's fascination with language and
an idea from the philosopher Wittgenstein
whereby two languages could, for a short
time, be happily coincident. The 15-
Minute Hamlet was originally performed
on a double-decker bus.
Dogg's Hamlet is a sometimes funny
skit wherein school kids take part in a
graduation ceremony and then perform a
crazy minute version of Hamlet, using an
absurd language called Dogg. A daffy
deliveryman called Easy comes in with a
truckload of plans, slaps and cubes and
becomes totally baffled with Dogg when
the audience discovers that plank means
"ready" and cube "thank you."
Cahoot's Macbeth takes on a more
serious tone, combining political satire
with a living-room performance of Macbeth. Inspired by Stoppard's meeting with
Czechoslovakian playwright Pavel
Kohout, who through political dissent
formed a call-group, the Living-Room
Theatre, through which forbidden Czech
actors could perform. Call them, and five
people will come with one suitcase.
In Cahoot's Macbeth, the one-suitcase
troupe are giving their condensed Macbeth in the home of a hostess when a police
inspector barges in to threaten the group.
He demands their hest Macbeth, or else
he will take them all to jail. Cahoot, who
has been playing Banquo, hits all fours
and goes into his Dogg act, speech and all.
Easy, the deliveryman from Dogg's
Hamlet, comes in near the end, surprising
the audience with his fluent Dogg. The
inspector asks Cahoot how you learn
Dogg, to which Cahoot replys, "You don't
learn it; you catch it."
Whether or not you "catch the Dogg" in
this production, I'm not sure you will enjoy
it, unless you are a die-hard Shakespeare
enthusiast (punster not purest), and even
that is no guarantee.
Stoppard's intentds rather original and
worthy; it's just that "this Dogg" ain't no
real Hoot—it might have been on a double-
decker bus, however.
Fault does not lie with the able direction
by Cindy Goatley or the bright 11-member
Peter Bryson as Easy was an easy stand
out and served his role with fine aplomb.
Mark Walz and Billie Duncan pair well
together and indivually with sharp performances as Macbeth and his Lady, respectively.
Pamela Donahue has some funny
moments as Mrs. Dogg and as Gertrude in
Bill O'Rourke is very fine overall in his
multiple roles as Fox Major, Hamlet and
This production barks through Dec. 10
at Chocolate Bayou (1823 Lamar).
This year's biggest tourist attraction in
Florence, Italy, wasn't art, it was pain,
reports Behavior Today.
Outdrawing all the masterpieces at the
Pitti Palace was an exhibit of torture
instruments used from the 15th to the 19th
centuries. The exhibit includes such old
favorites as the rack, hanging cages and
spiked interrogation chairs.
The collection was such a hit that it's
been taken on the road and may visit the
U.S. in 1985. Proceeds go to human rights
Billie Duncan gives Lady Macbeth a strange twist in the Chocolate Bayou