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June, 2019

Skewering Politics with Comedy
2007 President’s Festival of the Arts to Showcase Candide

By Catherine Lee

 

Dean Murry Sidlin leads a rehearsal of Candide at Ward Hall.

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide — the highlight of CUA’s upcoming festival, The Politics of Comedy — is set in 18th-century Westphalia, but Dean Murry Sidlin says the comic opera will resonate with students and others who enjoy the satire of TV’s “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Candide, one of numerous events planned for The Catholic University of America 2007 President’s Festival of the Arts March 11 to 18, is based on Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire’s novella, a satiric jab at the widely-held philosophy known as Optimism, which encouraged hopefulness in the face of war, poverty and the hypocrisy of the Church.

Candide pokes fun at serious issues in a way that young people can understand,” says Sidlin, who conceived and will produce this year’s festival. “It’s a wonderful, rollicking farce that really gets at the crux of the ludicrousness of human nature in relation to society and world events.” 

In addition, says Sidlin, “the music is glorious.” Candide is most famous for its popular overture, which is recognizable as the theme song of “The Dick Cavett Show.”

Bernstein started working on Candide in 1954 with playwright Lillian Hellman, who had appeared two years earlier before the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities, which investigated allegations of subversive political activities.

Bernstein’s Candide draws parallels between the age of Voltaire and the McCarthy era — a time of anti-Communist fervor in the United States fueled, in part, by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., and the work of the House committee.

Over the years, Candide has been revised numerous times; the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music will present the version done in 1989 when Bernstein conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at London’s Barbican Centre.

The music school, with Sidlin directing the CUA Symphony Orchestra, will present Candide March 16, 17 and 18. Matthew Gardiner, assistant director of Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., is the stage director.

 

This year’s festival also features films, lectures and discussions that will explore Bernstein’s Candide as well as Voltaire’s novella. Andrew H. Weaver, CUA musicologist and assistant professor, is coordinating those events.

Evening performances will begin at 8 p.m. All but one of the performances will be presented at Hartke Theatre.

Following is a complete list of festival events with dates, times and locations. “Voltaire’s World, Bernstein’s World,” the chamber music concert that will open the festival, as well as all films and lectures, are free and open to the public. Ticket prices for Candide are $20 for general admission and $15 for students, seniors, faculty and staff. To purchase tickets, call 202-319-5416. Visit http://music.cua.edu for more information.

Sunday, March 11
4 p.m., Concert: “Voltaire’s World, Bernstein’s World”
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish, Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.
 
Music school faculty and graduate students will present a chamber music concert with works by Bernstein, Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and C. P. E. Bach. Performers will include Sharon Christman, soprano; Vanita Jones, flute; Ivo Kaltchev, piano; James Litzelman, piano; and Michael Mermagen, cello.

Monday, March 12
4 p.m., Joint Lecture: Bernstein Scholar Elizabeth B. Crist and Voltaire Scholar Jennifer S. Tsien
Ward Hall, John Paul Hall
Crist, music historian and assistant professor of music at Princeton University, and Tsien, assistant professor of French at the University of Virginia, will give a joint lecture about Candide, both Voltaire’s original novella and Bernstein’s musical-theatrical adaptation. Crist has published several articles on Candide, most recently “Mutual Responses in the Midst of an Era: Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land and Leonard Bernstein’s Candide." Tsien is the author of “Voltaire and the Temple of Bad Taste: A Study of la Pucelle d'Orléans.” The lecture also will include live performances of music related to Voltaire and Bernstein.

7:30 p.m., Film Screening: “Forrest Gump”
Gowan Hall Auditorium, Catholic University
This popular 1994 movie, which won six Academy Awards including Best Picture, is often considered a sweet-natured piece of Americana nostalgia. However, its episodic narrative framework centered on a dim-witted young man chasing the girl of his dreams closely parallels that of Candide. Beneath the comedic surface, moreover, lurks incisive commentary and critique of American culture and politics.


Tuesday, March 13
10:30 a.m., Roundtable Discussion: “Candide as Cultural Critique”
Ward Hall, John Paul Hall

Elizabeth B. Crist, Jennifer S. Tsien, CUA Professor of Politics John A. Kromkowski and others will discuss the political and cultural commentary in Voltaire’s book and Bernstein’s opera. Andrew H. Weaver will moderate.


7:30 p.m.: Film Screening: “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”
Gowan Hall Auditorium, Catholic University

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, which was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture, deals, like Bernstein’s Candide, with Cold War politics, but with a different focus. Unlike Bernstein, who looked to the past to make commentaries on the present, Kubrick set his black comedy in the present, dealing directly with the fears of nuclear devastation that fed the Cold War. 


Thursday, March 15
12:10 p.m., Lecture: “Candide and the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress”
Ward Hall, Room 211

Mark Eden Horowitz, senior music specialist and curator of the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress, will talk about the archival materials related to Candide at the Library of Congress.


6:30 p.m., Lecture and Open Dress Rehearsal
Hartke Theatre

Elizabeth B. Crist will give a talk on the compositional history and various versions of Bernstein’s Candide. Afterward audience members will be invited to watch the first half of the dress rehearsal of the opera.


Friday, March 16
7 p.m., Pre-Performance Discussion: “Reminiscences of Bernstein”
Hartke Theatre

Dean Murry Sidlin, who worked with Bernstein at the National Symphony Orchestra; Assistant Dean Amy Antonelli, who performed in the premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, and others will reminisce about the composer and his impact on American culture.


8 p.m., Candide
Hartke Theatre

The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and the CUA Symphony Orchestra, under the musical direction of Dean Murry Sidlin, will present Bernstein’s comic operetta Candide. Matthew Gardiner, assistant director at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., is the stage director.


Saturday, March 17
7 p.m., Pre-Performance Lecture on Bernstein’s Candide
Hartke Theatre
Elizabeth B. Crist and stage director Matthew Gardiner will give a brief talk on Candide preceding the performance.


8 p.m., Candide
Hartke Theatre


Sunday, March 18
1 p.m., Pre-Performance Lecture on Bernstein’s Candide
Hartke Theatre

Elizabeth B. Crist and stage director Matthew Gardiner will give a brief talk on Candide preceding the performance.


2 p.m., Candide
Hartke Theatre



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