Candide is a comic operetta by Leonard Bernstein, based on the novella by Voltaire. It has existed in many versions but is now generally performed with a book by Hugh Wheeler. The primary lyricist was Richard Wilbur. Other contributors to the text include Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, and Lillian Hellman. Hershy Kay and John Mauceri contributed orchestrations.

Candide is most famous for its wonderful score, many parts of which are very well known, especially in musical circles. Notable songs from the show include:

Candide first opened on Broadway in the form of a musical on 1 December 1956. It featured Robert Rounseville as Candide, a young Barbara Cook as Cunegonde, Max Adrian as Dr. Pangloss, and Irra Petina as the Old Lady. It was not a huge success by any stretch of the word; modern music historians tend to put that down to the fact that New York at the time didn't want very much to do with an operetta pretending to be a musical. Others blame Hellman's overtly political and topical book, which drew parallels between the Inquisition and McCarthyism. However, while the show itself was a flop, the music became an almost instant hit in the art music world.

The show underwent a series of revivals under the direction of Harold Prince, previously known for, among other work, producing the first run of Fiddler on the Roof. Lillian Hellman, the author of the original book, refused to let any of her work be used in the revival, so Prince commissioned a new book from Hugh Wheeler. Lyrics were worked on by the veritable team of artists listed above.

In response to requests from opera companies for a more legitimate version, the show was expanded based on Wheeler's book. The two-act opera house version contains most of Bernstein's music, including some songs that were not orchestrated for the original production. It was first performed by the New York City Opera in 1982 under Prince's direction, and ran for 34 performances. Since, opera companies around the world have performed this version. The production continues to be a staple of the City Opera's repertoire, with performances underway in Spring 2005.

In 1989, by which point Hellman had died an untimely death, Bernstein undertook a recording project that expressed his final wishes regarding Candide, incorporating what he thought were the best lyrics from all the contributors (including Hellman) and what he thought were the best portions of music. This recording incorporates a great deal of music and is generally thought to be too long to be produced theatrically.

A recent major production of Candide was directed by Lonny Price in a semi-staged concert production with the New York Philharmonic under Marin Alsop. It ran for four performances, May 5-8, 2004. This production was also broadcast on PBS's Great Performances. The cast featured Paul Groves as Candide, Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss, and Patti LuPone as the Old Lady. Of particular note in this production is the inclusion of the rarely sung duet between Cunegonde and the Old Lady, We Are Women.

Despite the initial reaction it garnered, Candide has achieved an enormous popularity. It is very popular among major music schools as a student show because of its wonderful music and the spectacular opportunities it offers to talented student singers. Its overture is played in concert halls all over the world on a regular basis. It is widely regarded as representative of Leonard Bernstein's finest theatrical work. Its sparkle, wit, breadth of emotion and musical impact make it one of the best musical works for the stage to come out of the 20th century.

In short, it's a wonderful show, and not to be missed. I recommend it most highly. So how can you experience the bliss that is Candide for yourself? Good that you ask:

  • For the casual theatre-goer, it's a bit hard to catch a show because of the high musical requirements, but you may be in luck if you live near a conservatory or a music school with a decent opera program, or if your local opera house happens to be playing it. Check your local listings for details.

  • It is, however, a bit more easy to get a hold of a (sound) recording of the show on CD. Look in your local record store under one of the following: Bernstein, operetta, musical soundtracks, opera, Candide. There are a number out there, but for starters I would go with the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

  • For those rich in spirit but lacking in funds, search the catalog of your local libraries. I've found that many libraries with music collections will have Candide either on LP or CD. If the library carries LPs, they probably also have a record player in the library that you can use. If the library system closest to you doesn't have it, try the surrounding counties.

  • If you would rather have an introduction to Leonard Bernstein's theatrical music, you can pick up a concert compilation CD. Make sure it has at least the Overture to Candide and Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. To be safe, you could go with Bernstein conducting his own music, but any other number of fine conductors also have led good recordings.

I wish you joy on your path to discovering Candide in the Best of All Possible Forms in this Best of All Possible Worlds. Good luck.


Bernstein, Leonard; Lillian Hellman; and Richard Wilbur et al. Candide: Original Broadway Cast Recording. Columbia Soundtracks, 1957.
Hutchins, Michael H. A Guide to Leonard Bernstein's Candide. <>. Accessed 21 January 2005.
Public Broadcasting System. Great Performances: Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" in Concert. <>. Accessed 21 January 2005.

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