It’s panto season and at the Barbican there’s dodgy accents, slapstick humour, smutty jokes, a Knight and plenty of silliness to keep the audience entertained. Perhaps surprisingly, this is all in the context of a London Symphony Orchestra Bernstein concert. Oh no it isn’t? Oh yes it is.
What is far from silly is the gusto and precision with which the LSO seized Bernstein’s operetta Candide under the baton of the composer’s once-protégé, Marin Alsop. From the chirping violins of the overture to the buoyant movement through the tango, the orchestra delivered exactly what was needed for a semi-staged production: steadfast foundation and character. Soaring above this all specifically was Jane Archibald singing the romantic lead role of Cunegonde. While Sir Thomas Allen (Dr Pangloss, Narrator) and Anne Sofie von Otter (The Old Lady) were undoubtedly the biggest names in the cast, it was Jane who elevated the production at key moments where staging limitations might otherwise have hampered. Her ‘Glitter and be Gay’ was a stand-out moment that excused the more clumsy use of screens and scripts during Act I.
The LSO and Marin had clearly decided to have fun with this production and of the various decisions that his led to, the casting of Marcus Farnsworth as hapless heir Maximillian, Captain, Judge (and Ensemble) deserves special, side-splitting mention. Farnsworth’s character acting, comic timing and sense of the amusing was a crucial ingredient when it came to delivering the laughs that had been ordered. Likewise, Frederick Jones’s turn as Grand Inquisitor and Jewish suitor (the latter played inexplicably but brilliantly with a New York accent) was quite sublime. So too the London Symphony Chorus (prepared fabulously by Simon Halsey) who as well as delivering their parts with panache and requisite diction also played their part in various laughs emerging in Act II in Hawaiian shirts that wholly suited the evening’s levity.
In Christmas 2017, Sir Simon Rattle decided that the LSO’s festive period deserved a show and brought Wonderful Town to London in the same way that he had revived it in Birmingham and Berlin before. Mounting a production of another Bernstein in 2018 might have been overkill — but as the music ended, the audience applauded and a picture of Marin with Lennie was projected either side of the stage, it did indeed seem like a wholly fitting end to the Bernstein 100 celebrations (and a fine festive tradition to boot).