Candide 2024State Opera South Australia and State Theatre South Australia. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 25 May 2024


One cheers and laments at the same time for this historic production.  One cheers its glorious might, its wit and perfection of production values, and one laments that it had an abysmally short run - too short for the word to get out properly and too short for enough people to see it. This is a tragedy. Everyone needs to know Candide and to have that immortal figure embedded in their knowledge. 

But this is a very big production; far too big to be practicable for a long season. There are hundreds of people onstage. There’s the State Opera Chorus, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra assembled en masse, plus the myriad trained voices of the Elder Conservatorium, not to mention the principals. So, for those lucky enough to have snared a seat, it has been a treat of the lifetime.

Rarely have there been even Festival of Arts headliner shows of this scale and standard.

Bottom line:   Magnificence is an understatement.


Candide was created by French philosopher Voltaire two centuries ago at a time of politico-socio-environmental upheaval. ’Twas satirical then and so is it now, with the world still in fermenting disorder. Its acid wit and pathos retain their currency.


And, while Candide does not rival West Side Story as composer Leonard Bernstein’s most popular work, it is indeed a rollicking operetta in which every word except the narration is sung.


Amid the operatic elite in this sizzling show cast as the vain and vapid Maximilian, is Adelaide’s Hans, the German, AKA Matt Gilbertson. He’s quite a musical maestro as well as the best showman in town, but an opera star? Well, yes, as it happens in this context. The opera bods have really discovered the breadth of our song-and-dance man and he is singing as never before. Takes the breath away.  The creatives, Mitchell Butel, Amy Campbell, and Anthony Hunt, have also allowed him to maintain his comic identity and he has ‘Hansed’ it up all over the place. 


Candide’s lyrics were penned over years by some of the greatest of Broadway lyricists including Stephen Sondheim and Dorothy Parker just for starters and they are delectably funny and quirky. 


Then again, the operetta also carries Voltaire’s serious philosophic message:  all will not necessarily turn out for the best in this best of all possible worlds, as espoused by the teacher Dr Pangloss. But, as is shown through Candide’s experiences as an innocent abroad in a big, wide, wicked world, the best is actually to be found in realising what one has in one’s own garden.


Clad in a glory of canary yellow, Mitchell Butel embodies Dr Pangloss and also the narrator in which latter capacity he has some of the best of all possible lines. Like Hans, he’s an accomplished song-and-dance man who brings verve to a stage. As does the inimitable Caroline O’Connor who plays The Old Lady who becomes one of Candide’s allies through the narrative. She’s stellar! 


The other principals are opera stars led by Alexander Lewis, who belies his comical costume as Candide by delivering his lines in a divine tenor voice. Then there’s Candide’s adored Cunegonde, the love object and much-misused and abused heroine sung by Annie Aitken. She is entrusted with Glitter and Be Gay, which must be one of the funniest and most demanding coloratura compositions of all time, and she performs it with vocal brilliance only matched by the wit and whimsy of her delivery. It is truly a “brava” moment.


Taylah Johns turns heads as Paquette, the sweet servant girl, and popular Adelaide singer Michaela Burger, stepping in from time to time as the narrator, shines with a speaking voice which might teach an elocutionist a thing or two. Ah, but there are yet more glorious voices in which to revel: the richness of John Longmuir, Rod Schultz, Ezra Juanta, and Rosie Hosking. These performers leap from character to character as they embody the foreign lands of Candide’s travails.


Attired in a wild folly of outrageous costumes from Brendan de la Hay and choreographed by Amy Campbell, the principals besport betwixt and between the tiers of the stage whereupon, of course, conductor Anthony Hunt presides over his wall-to-wall expanse of glorious musicians.  The massed choir sits as a human backdrop, adorning the story line with nods, costume embellishments, and Mexican waves according to the cue. And dare one forget the cubes? Ailsa Paterson, talent of a set realiser, has equipped the action with very clever multi-purpose cubes to light or not to light, depending on the action.


For those of us lucky to have seen this triumph, we shall carry it onwards through life as one of those magical achievements of high theatre. It really was the best of all possible shows in the best of all possible theatres in this best of all possible cities - which, indeed, all told is our very own hard-worked and beautiful garden.


Samela Harris


When: 23 May to 25 May

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bookings: Closed