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Wolf Trap's 'Candide': Limelight Through the Clouds

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wolf Trap Opera presented its first Filene Center performance of the season on Sunday night, the concert version of Leonard Bernstein's "Candide." The company has wisely chosen to present its young artists mostly in the Barns this summer, but it joined with the National Symphony Orchestra for this American classic in the cavernous outdoor theater.

A torrential downpour shortly before curtain may have discouraged some spectators, resulting in an audience just under half capacity.

The necessary evil of the space is an amplification system, which produces a canned sound that lacks directionality, making judgment of the voices difficult.

Anne-Carolyn Bird was a slinky Cunegonde with appropriately glittering coloratura pyrotechnics and a winning stage presence. As Candide, Dominic Armstrong had a less felicitous encounter with the sound system, but a lustrous, sweet voice came through in "It Must Be Me."

After Denyce Graves withdrew from the cast last week, Jamie Van Eyck bravely and competently stepped in as the Old Lady. The supporting cast was generally fine.

Jason Alexander, best known from "Seinfeld," sang well, with the exception of the final held notes of "Dear Boy." He had his various roles partly memorized, relying on the book for much of the narration and some of the songs.

His comic alterations to the spoken lines involved predictable political references that got laughs but bordered on the merely offensive: Were snide references to "other members of the Cheney family" or FEMA's formaldehyde-laced trailers really funny?

The NSO, missing several of its principal players, occasionally sounded flabby under guest conductor Stephen Lord but had enough sparkle to make the evening mostly a pleasure.

-- Charles T. Downey

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