The Juneau Symphony and Juneau Lyric Opera are teaming up for a concert version of “Candide,” the first time in many years the two organizations have collaborated.
“It’s been awhile,” said Christopher Koch, music director at the symphony. “At least a decade.”
The operetta is being staged as a concert performance rather than a full stage production. Seven actors will work the front of the stage, backed by a 60-chair symphony orchestra and a 40-person chorus. The shows are this weekend at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.
The Leonard Bernstein operetta is based on the novella penned by French philosopher Voltaire in 1759, but you’re forgiven if the performance makes you think more of “West Side Story” than classic literature, Koch said.
That’s because Bernstein wrote the two masterpieces at about the same time in the mid-1950s. “If you love ‘West Side Story’ you’re going to love ‘Candide’ – it’s got all the same stuff,” said Koch. The famous operetta is also just “fun,” he said.
“West Side Story” is based on “Romeo and Juliet” and, while the “Candide” storyline may be less recognizable, it is familiar: Candide is in love with Cunégonde, daughter of a fancy house where Candide grows up without pedigree. Their tutor, Pangloss, teaches them optimism and that everything works out for the best. Life proceeds to batter Candide and the others, putting that theory to the test.
Koch has done “Candide” before as music director of the Springfield Regional Opera, now Ozarks Lyric Opera, in Springfield, Missouri. That 2019 production also featured Tanner Johnson as Candide, which made him an easy pick for the role here.
Johnson said Koch, who he first knew as a professor at Drury University, reached out to him months ago about the new production.
“He asked if this was something I would be interested in,” said Johnson, who happily agreed. Part of the appeal of the job is that it was in Alaska, he said. “It’s been such an enjoyable experience so far.”
He knew the role, having played it, but still practiced on his own before coming to Juneau weeks ago to work with others and otherwise prepare. Rehearsals here have been regular since then, he said.
“We get together for about four weeks, a few nights a week,” said David Miller, who plays Pangloss. “This final week is the crunch time.”
Miller, a general surgeon in Juneau, said it’s time-consuming enough that he shuts down his practice during the week of the show. Among other things, the time of the respective work is in conflict: surgery generally happens in the morning, while opera is at night.
Operetta is a form of musical theater that mixes spoken dialogue with opera, song and dance. That makes it perfect territory for a mashup of efforts between the Juneau Lyric Opera, a nonprofit arts organization that dates back to 1975, and the symphony, which was founded in 1962.
“We are providing the musicians and the space, and the opera is handling the elements that include the principal cast of characters, the vocal side and the production side,” Koch explained.
Next up for the symphony is “Holiday Cheer,” which will be Dec. 10 and 11.
Contact Meredith Jordan at email@example.com or (907) 615-3190.
Know & Go:
What: Juneau Symphony and Juneau Lyric Opera perform Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide” based on Voltaire’s novel.
When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé