“Welcome to EPR. Enlightened Public Rhetoric,” booms the voice of Peter Sagal welcoming the crowd to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s semi-staged production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide ” on Saturday night. What the BSO offered was engineered to delight a “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” listener: a pared-down, humor-filled take on the classic.
Fans of Monty Python weren’t disappointed, either, with characters exchanging hats and accents to resemble a much larger cast. Hamming it up prevailed at times even when a little more continental reserve would have had more punch. Nonetheless, the audience ate out of the BSO’s hand.
Music Director Marin Alsop was completely in her element. Getting panhandled by the bereft hero — the innocent Candide, with his cup out — she turns him away. When the frantic Candide tries to escape Don Issachar (Curtis Bannister), Alsop hands over her baton, with which Candide stabs his enemy. Alsop shrugs, takes the baton, wipes it on her coat and cues the music. Comic timing is one of her specialties.
Keith Jameson as Candide brought all the innocent boyish antics to bear in his portrayal and matched his Cunegonde (Lauren Snouffer) with solid vocal chemistry.
Snouffer’s bathos in “Glitter and Be Gay” took things a shade too far, but her Mozartian trills of a caged bird hit all the right notes.
The Choral Arts Society backed the action well and played the crowd of clowns you’d find at a World Cup match. While sometimes distracting from the main stage, it went down well with a Baltimore audience.
The Baltimore Symphony did more than a pit orchestra’s duty. “It Must Be So” milked a very tender harp. Even the smallest instrument, the triangle, enjoyed delightful overtime as it heralded the lead couple’s finding themselves again after miles of ocean and multiple disguises. One only wishes that the orchestra hadn’t been on fast-forward through the famous overture, as if rushed to get on with the show.
We’ve heard great things from the BSO as it has closed the season: an unforgettably rich Sibelius No. 7 from Christoph König and a wonderful mélange of Debussy and Strauss under the baton of Mario Venzago. Sunday capped off all in a winsome spectacle just as last season ended with a semi-staged “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
A welcome tradition of light, wonderful ending fare. You knew that from the gentleman in the eighth row, still humming “Make Our Garden Grow” as he stood to applaud.
Buker is a freelance writer.