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The Badger Herald


Madison Opera presents classic, ‘Candide’

Cast members Jenny Houser, Luis Alejandro Orozco tell more
Photo courtesy of Madison Opera
Photo courtesy of Madison Opera

Written in the 1700s by Voltaire, “Candide” has become a popular operetta that has been adapted multiple times. Madison Opera presents its production at the Overture Center for the Arts April 26 and 27.

“Everybody who produced [Candide] did their own version, and then the Scottish opera version in the 1980s became a little bit more definitive so we’re doing a version of that,” lead actress Jeni Houser said.

Houser plays the role of Cunégonde in the show.


The musical is divided into two acts and recounts the tale of Candide. It is a satire, with a deep impression of the nature of suffering and the cause of evil and misfortune.

It begins in a Baron’s castle in northwestern Germany. Candide is an illegitimate nephew of a German Baron who is educated by his tutor Pangloss.

Pangloss is a firm believer in the philosophy of optimism, preaching all is for the best to Candide. Everything is perfect in the castle until Candide falls in love with the Baron’s daughter, Cunégonde.

Candide is then exiled from the house, after the Baron discovers the two kissing and finds himself conscripted into the Bulgarian army. He continues to believe in the philosophy of his tutor Pangloss and hopes that everything happens for the best.

As the play unfolds, Candide is subjugated to many misfortunes. He receives flogging in the army for being taken as a deserter and escapes after a battle only to find his tutor Pangloss, now a sick beggar in Holland who contracted syphilis.

He learns from him that the whole family was murdered by the Bulgar army. But later he discovers Cunégonde is still alive and was spared only to be raped and sold as a slave.

Candide faces many other challenges including a shipwreck, an earthquake, betrayal, slavery, prosecution and many more and gives up on his tutor’s belief that all things happen for some good.

“Optimism as a life philosophy in the way that it’s presented at the beginning of this show is a little bit naive,” Houser said. “And I think what you get to at the end is perhaps a sense of hope.”

A tragic tale on the human condition and suffering, it is a search for happiness amidst the inevitable suffering of life.

According to Voltaire, as interpreted by Houser, life is plagued with suffering but is divided into little parts that lead to happiness.

“I thought the world was sugar cake for, so our master said, but now I’ll teach my hands to bake our loaf of daily bread,” Houser said, citing one of Cunégonde’s last lines from the show.

The satire was written initially by Voltaire to criticize the philosophy of optimism accepted by polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and his contemporaries.

The play ends with all surviving characters including Candide, Cunégonde and Pangloss among others living on a farm and finding happiness and contentedness in cultivating their garden.

The goal is not to live a life without suffering but rather to find hope and thus happiness despite it.

“It’s hidden in comedy, but it’s a very human story,” actor Luis Alejandro Orozco said. “And it is a story about just how hard life is. And you do what you can to make it through and hopefully at the end with a little bit of grace we make it through together. That’s to me what the show is about.”

Orozco plays Cunégonde’s brother in the show.

It is also a satire and is known for its exuberant humor hiding all its depth and pain behind its vale.

The big picture is always almost sad, however it is the little things, the everyday things which make life happy. It is the people and a sense of hope according to Houser and Orozco.

Both Houser and Orozco are DMA candidates at UW–Madison. Orozco is a third-year student and Houser is finishing her last semester here.

Other actors include Martin Luther Clark as Candide, known for his roles in “Die Zauberflöte,” “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” and “Macbeth.” He has also received much praise from the Chicago Tribune for his performances with the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The show also includes Alan Dunbar as Pangloss, James Ridge as Voltaire, Robert A. Goderich as Governor of Buenos Aires, Hailey Cohen as Paquette and Meredith Arwady as the old lady.

The orchestra is conducted by John DeMain who was previously known for his performances with the Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera.

The play is two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission and is sung in English with projected text.

Tickets start at $20 and student rush tickets for the same price to the best available seat on the day of the show beginning at 11 a.m.

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