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Leonard Bernstein: What’s the Use?

Oh It’s Summer! And time for all of our many summer music festivals! I’m in Santa Fe where they are offering up Candide, Madama Butterfly, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Dr. Atomic, among other goodies. Their production of Candide is closer to Voltaire than the Americanized jokey versions I’ve seen in our country lately. It is stylish, and the production is aesthetically very beautiful and creative (thank God). It opens this weekend, so here we go. Lots off us saw this conductor on youtube a few years ago acting out the music of “What’s The Use?” from Candide. It’s over the top, but what’s amazing is how he stays in the piece, actually giving lots of stylish information to his orchestra while being entertaining. I can only imagine what he did with the “Auto da Fe”. So here it is, thanks to these performers, lyricist Richard Wilbur, and birthday boy approaching his 100th, Leonard Bernstein. If you haven’t read Jamie Bernstein’s book yet, go grab a copy.

Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur: Make Our Garden Grow

I first encountered Candide in a college production that my high school’s Thespian Club attended.  It was exciting and irreverent and the “Make Our Garden Grow” finale had me walking on air.  I talked about the show so much that my mom bought me the double LP (1974 version with the red cover), which I played over and over in my bedroom. Thanks, Mom!

In the context of the story, any utopia is suspect, and the verdant domestic future Candide imagines in the finale is no exception.  As soon as the company has sung it into being, the bubble is burst.  “Ah me, the pox.”

But when the song is unlinked from the story, the audience is allowed to indulge in its lovely sincerity.  As Jamie Bernstein has written, “the soaring chorus seems to be telling us that growing our garden is a metaphor for the flowering of mankind itself.”   I especially love the moment when the orchestra drops out and everyone sings acapella.

I’ve chosen the performance from the PBS Broadcast of “Bernstein at 70,” a birthday concert at Tanglewood on August 25, 1988.  Seiji Ozawa leads Jerry Hadley and Dawn Upshaw. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing who is in the supporting ensemble in front of the orchestra.

“Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide (1956)
Lyric: Richard Wilbur
Music: Leonard Bernstein

If you’re grasping at names, here is the cast list from the BSO’s online archive. Is that Jamie and her siblings at the far left at 3:25?

The New York Times’ report on the event is here.

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