Edington Street, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

IN ONE of the most prescient decisions in the existence of the awards, in 2009 this newspaper gave a Herald Angel to a young company, Shadwell Opera, led by the Furness brothers, Jack and Sam, who were presenting their debut production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in Roslin Chapel. Tenor Sam now enjoys an international career and director Jack has just given us Garsington Opera’s magnificent Rusalka at the Edinburgh Festival venue where he received the Angel. He now guides Scottish Opera to what is one of the most joyous theatrical creations in its history.

Of the two, Candide is the show faithful to that younger man’s intention that the art form should be presented in the faces of ticket-buyers to win a new audience.

The argument that Leonard Bernstein’s version of Voltaire’s picaresque novella - on which a huge number of well-known names worked from its first inception to the creation of John Mauceri’s 1988 “Scottish Opera version” - is “unstageable” is utterly demolished in this constantly mobile, persistently inventive production. At its heart is a charismatic performance by tenor William Morgan in the title role, ably supported by Ronald Samm as Dr Pangloss, with Paula Sides a sensational coloratura Cunegonda often in partnership with Susan Bullock, whose pivotal role is somewhat under-described in the cast-list as “The Old Lady”. Another company favourite, Jamie MacDougall, is having the most possible fun with his clothes on, and he has plenty of those to wear in his many guises, and even he is out-camped by Dan Shelvey’s Maximilian. Current Scottish Opera Emerging Artist Lea Shaw and actor Sam Ebner-Landy complete the listed principals, but they are supported by a huge number of others in individual and collective roles.

The chorus, an indistinguishable mix of professionals and community cast, old and (very) young, merge and disappear from among the audience and are drilled to perfection, singing superbly, and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera is on sparkling form from that terrific overture onwards. His direction from the podium and on TV monitors is not visible enough to keep all this together, so Music Director Stuart Stratford has a couple of satellite conductors popping up where required.

Candide’s journey around the world, from philosophical naivety to enlightenment, and rejection to amorous contentment, takes place in a specially-constructed venue with shipping containers, curtain-sided trucks and a long astroturf catwalk the stages. The action is filmed and projected on hanging screens, the cleverly-mixed images decorated in Instagram or TikTok fashion. Furness has made a production that is contemporary satire in the precise definition of the word, while giving some glorious music, and hilarious lyrics and lines, their perfect context. This Candide rocks between ribald nonsense and the deeply moving with startling ease, and is full of tiny witty details as well as grand spectacle.

The sheer chutzpah of Scottish Opera in giving such a unique event six performances at its home in Glasgow, while the eyes of the world are on Edinburgh, is also a crucial ingredient. Candide is as good, if not better, than anything to be seen at the Festival and Fringe. Do not miss it.