Tuesday, February 24, 2015


On Sunday we saw the Lamplighters' production of Candide. It's awfully hard to say what I thought of this. They're always a good light opera company, and all the cast were at least fully capable and many better than that. Samuel Faustine in the title role had a strong voice and more presence than expected of someone who looks so waif-like. There's a lot of good songs in this show and most came off at least adequately.

What I didn't like so much was the version. Candide's libretto has been redone numerous times, often from scratch. This was a 1999 version, which accordingly Bernstein had no part in making, with several problems. It tries to stuff the entire original book in, only partially as a result of which it's far too long (200 minutes including intermission), the literary style doesn't reflect the sarcasm that's baked deep into the plot (characters conveniently returning from the dead, etc.), there's too many long prose speeches, and the songs are often awkwardly placed in the script.

Looking for something on TV to distract me from illness, I noticed that the DVR had recorded a couple things from Masterpiece. One was the new season of Downton Abbey, a show I'd oft read about but never seen. I lasted about 20 minutes. Couldn't stand the ceaseless cuts from one tiny brief scene to another in a different plotline. Nothing lasted long enough to catch my interest. It was like being at the mercy of a channel-surfer in the Abbey security-video office. Also, a couple scenes would have been entirely superfluous had the producers just thought of putting up a title card with "1924" on it. OK, we get what year it is, the characters don't have to keep telling each other. And Lord Grantham is awfully slow on the uptake if he's complaining that a Labour government is out to destroy the aristocracy. He'd have felt that way about Lloyd George's "People's Budget" 15 years earlier.

Then I sampled an even more pathetic contemporary spy drama. Bill Nighy, looking more like Michael Heseltine than ever, is awfully casual and nonchalant for a rogue British spy on the run. Meanwhile all the powerful folks back in London, including Ralph Fiennes who doesn't look as if he believes it when everyone keeps addressing him as the prime minister, are quaking in their boots over what damaging information Nighy will leak next, which they learn about by reading the morning newspapers (really? how long ago was this made?). But what Nighy is mostly doing is buying take-out coffee or holding hands with a blowsy-looking Helena Bonham Carter. It's not just the script; I kept rubbing my eyes in disbelief at so many good actors being so bloody awful at their craft.

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