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arts

Jacobs School of Music brings satire to stage with ‘Candide’

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From the show’s opening numbers, which decree that “life is happiness, indeed” and that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” the audience is immediately taken into the absurd satire of such a blindingly optimistic mindset — a satire which is masterfully executed in “Candide.” 

Jacobs School of Music will present “Candide” with two different casts at 7:30 p.m. from April 14-15 and 21-22 at the Musical Arts Center. 

“Candide” follows the titular character as he is forced to leave his home of Westphalia and find his way in the world — all while his mindless optimism is tested time and time again. Based off Voltaire’s 1759 novella of the same name, the operetta challenges what it means to be positive. 

Cameron King, a second-year master’s student, plays Candide in one cast and saw his naïve optimism as not just something to laugh at, but something to appreciate. 

“He can be seen as a naïve character, but you can appreciate his willingness to see the best,” King said. “Voltaire wrote him as a sarcastic commentary on optimism but there are things to appreciate like his nature and willingness to persevere.” 

Related: [IU Theatre to present ‘Something Rotten!’ April 14]

Throughout the operetta, Candide experiences war, storms and murder. The absurdity of trials he goes to reaches the point where he is blamed for — and almost executed as a result — causing a volcanic eruption in the hilarious “Auto-da-fé” number. 

Through these comedically over-the-top trials, King said he saw Candide’s character as a testament to strength of character and strength of self.  

“I think his character arc represents the ability to test your beliefs against the real world and actually distill a real person,” King said. “He represents this ability to maintain your character but grow and change given experience.” 

Siyi Yan, a second-year master’s student, plays the role of Cunegonde — Candide’s love interest — in one cast. The production is directed by Jacobs faculty Michael Shell — resident stage director — brings the humor of the libretto to life in even the smallest of actions, something Yan thought audiences would appreciate greatly. 

“We have a lot of jokes in there,” Yan said. “There’s a lot of little characters that are funny and I hope the audience can catch all they can.” 

Cunegonde goes through her fair share of tribulations too, having her optimistic view shattered alongside Candide when they face reality. Yan said she saw the struggle to stay positive as an essential component of the show’s message. 

Related: [Festivals, festivals, festivals: local performances this week]

“Candide is always very happy after all these misfortunes. ‘How can he still be optimistic?’ That is the most important question,” Yan said. “This operetta tells you a lot about life.” 

Alexander Kapp, a second-year doctoral student, plays the dual role of Dr. Pangloss and Martin — the former being Candide’s teacher who is responsible for his optimistic view and the latter being a diehard pessimist — in one cast. 

“Candide” is an operetta, meaning it’s more text-centered than a traditional opera, which is entirely sung-through. There are scenes Kapp has that are almost entirely spoken through before a song even begins. Kapp said this difference was an engaging challenge for himself who used it to better his performance. 

“It makes the scenes more humanistic,” Kapp said. “Dialogue makes it super human because you have to speak to someone which is not normal in opera, so it changes the way you think about things, and it has definitely changed the rehearsal process.” 

Through the humanistic dialogue, the idea of what it means to truly be optimistic in a world of chaos and violence is cast into question. Kapp said he saw this examination of happiness and optimism as a reminder to do one's best and to maintain some positivity in the face of adversity. 

“It’s this little thread that keeps humanity together — a healthy dose of optimism, I mean — otherwise we would just devolve into thinking the worst,” Kapp said.

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