The most striking feature of English National opera’s new production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide is the drop-curtain.
It has been made up to look like a 1950s television test-card and it takes us instantly back to that era.
The card melts, as the music strikes up, into newsreel clips of Middle America, McCarthyism, gas guzzlers and the rise of the Kennedys. I won’t review the show – Fiona Maddocks gets it bang to rights in the Evening Standard – except to say that Robert Carsen’s co-pro with Paris and La Scala seemed to appeal more to under-30s in the audience than to over-40s.
Carsen’s supposedly controversial caricature of Bush, Blair, Putin & Co in flag-design swim pants was silly rather than provocative and the Eurotrash anti-American tone of the show grew tedious after the first ten gags.
What bothered me most, though, was what I had liked best.
When the test card became an active screen for moving images, it completely distracted attention from the Overture which, in my view, is the most concentrated and exciting piece of music that Bernstein ever wrote. I missed the Overture and it may have blighted my evening.
There is a growing tendency for directors to use Overture time to do clever things beneath the proscenium. Some have actors wandering the footlights, others project movie clips. They miss the point.
There is a reason composers write overtures, and it’s not just to allow latecomers to find their seats. The Overture sets the mood of a show. Overlay it with visual peripheria and you risk going into the performance without the courtesy of foreplay.
I’m setting up an Overture Protection Society. Sign up in Comments, below.