Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis


Voltaire sits in silence at the center of the stage. His face suddenly lights up while The Overture begins as if inspired by his fertile imagination. As the music continues, the stage is flooded by all the characters of his story. By the end of the overture, they are assembled all around him and sing the Voltaire Chorale to the audience.

Act One

Voltaire starts to tell his story, which begins in the country of Westphalia, in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-Ten-Tronck, as he introduces his central character, Candide, the illegitimate son of the Baron's sister. Candide reveals his simplicity and innocence in the song "Life Is Happiness Indeed". The Baron's children, Maximilian and Cunegonde, take up the same tune to introduce themselves in "Life Is Happiness Unending," the chamber-maid Paquette joining in the final chorus along with Candide. Thus, life in the castle is presented as a structured and contented social Eden with everyone knowing their place, all blissful in their own ignorance. Voltaire now introduces Pangloss – a part he plays himself! – who is Maximilian's tutor and professor of "metaphysico-theologico-cosmologico-panology," more simply described as "Optimism." He reveals the full glory of his philosophical theory in a lesson, "The Best of All Possible Worlds," in which he convinces his four young pupils of the depth and truth of his knowledge. Pangloss then conducts his class in a simple, unaccompanied chorale of faithful affirmation: "Universal Good."

All seems to be for the best... until Candide and Cunegonde fall in love and rashly assume that they will spend the rest of their lives together in marital bliss: "Oh, Happy We." The Baron is horrified at the thought of his daughter marrying a bastard and promptly kicks Candide out of the castle. Candide wanders off into the neighbouring country of Bavaria, where he is press-ganged into the army just in time to fight a war against his own country of Westphalia. After a series of appallingly brutal experiences, he deserts from the army and makes for Holland, where he is taken to a hospice for the sick and dying by a kindly Anabaptist called James. Here he meets his tutor, Pangloss, again, who is now hideously disfigured with disease. Pangloss tells Candide that the castle of Thunder-Ten-Tronck was completely destroyed in the war, the Baron and his family were wiped out and Cunegonde was repeatedly raped and then killed by Bavarian soldiers. Candide gives himself over completely to his grief in the in the heart-breaking "Candide's Lament." The next day, Pangloss tells Candide his own story, which includes an affair with the chamber-maid, Paquette... an affair which has left him with a fatal dose of the pox. Candide is horrified, but Pangloss justifies the disease with his customary optimism: "Dear Boy."

While Candide's story has taken him to the depths of despair in Holland, Cunegonde – contrary to Pangloss's belief – has survived the war but has been sold into sexual slavery to a series of officers and aristocrats in Paris and Vienna: "Paris Waltz." She ends up in Portugal, mistress to a wealthy Jewish banker, Don Issacar. While at mass one day, she catches the eye of the Cardinal Inquisitor of Lisbon, who forces Don Issacar into sharing Cunegonde's favours with him... on pain of a visit from the Inquisition. Thus Cunegonde is trapped, a victim of her own powers of attraction as well as her strong personal taste for luxury: "Glitter and Be Gay".

Pangloss recovers from the pox with the loss of only one ear and one eye. The kindly Anabaptist, James, has to go to Lisbon on business and decides to take along his new philospher friends, Pangloss and Candide, but they are shipwrecked in the Bay of Portugal while James is drowned. Surviving the wreck, Pangloss and Candide have no sooner arrived in Lisbon than the city is struck by a devastating earthquake that kills 30,000 of its citizens. Pangloss' attempt to justify this terrible event as a philosophical necessity is overheard by agents of the Inquisition, and both friends are arrested, Pangloss for blasphemy and Candide for listening to him. They are dragged before the Inquisition, which is restoring control after the earthquake by hanging and burning as many foreigners, heretics and Jews as they can get their hands on. After a mockery of a trial, Candide is flogged and Panglossis hanged: "Auto-Da-Fe." Witnessing these terrible events is Cunegonde, who is there as the guest of the Grand Inquisitor. In great secrecy, she sends her servant, the Old Woman, to nurse Candide back to health.

A week later, Candide is taken to see Cunegonde at Don Issacar's palace. At first, unable to believe that she is still alive, Candide is overjoyed to see her again, and they have an ecstatic reunion: "You Were Dead, You Know." Don Issacar returns unexpectedly and, in a rage of jealousy, tries to kill Cunegonde. Candide, trained to kill in the Bavarian army, intervenes and runs Don Issacar through with his sword. Enter the Grand Inquisitor, expecting a night of passion with Cunegonde. Overcome with jealousy and fear, and in revenge for Cunegonde's loss of honour, Candide runs him through as well.

Candide, Cunegonde and the Old Woman flee into the mountains, heading for the Spanish border. They finally stop in a little town in the hills of the Sierra Nevada. As they wait in the noon day sun for the end of the siesta, the Old Woman tells the story of her life to the young lovers, a fantastic tale of noble birth followed by appalling deprivation, poverty and distress. As the suspicious townsfolk awaken from their siestas, the Old Woman makes friends with them: "I Am Easily Assimilated." By the end of the evening, the newcomers have been joyfully assimilated into the heart of the town. In particular, Candide is befriended by Cacambo, an honest and practical jack-of-all-trades, who offers himself as Candide's servant. The next day, Candide, Cunegonde, Cacambo and the Old Woman ride off to Cadiz, resolved to escape the pursuit of the Inquisition by emigrating to the New World: "Quartet Finale." Act One comes to a gloriously optimistic conclusion.

Act Two

The four friends arrive in South America, disembarking on the quayside at Montevideo. As Candide and Cacambo go off in search of the Governor to get commissions in the army to fight against the Jesuit rebels, Cunegonde and the Old Woman consider the grim likelihood that they will be living in poverty in a dreary colonial outpost. The Old Woman reminds Cunegonde that they have at least retained their feminine charms... charms they could put to good use if required: "We Are Women." Candide returns with the Governor, a vainglorious womanizer who takes an instant fancy to Cunegonde. As Candide and Cacambo go off to review their new troops, the Governor declares his passion to Cunegonde in "My Love." Cunegonde is unhappy about betraying Candide, but the Old Woman convinces her that marriage to the Governor would be financially advantageous to all of them, including Candide. The Governor takes Cunegonde off to his palace. Candide and Cacambo return to the quayside to find the Old Woman alone. She tells them a terrible lie – that a ship has just arrived from Portugal, and that the town is swarming with men with the Inquisition who are looking for the villain that killed the Grand Inquisitor. Candide and Cacambo flee in terror, Candide heart-broken once more to be parted from his beloved Cunegonde.

Cacambo persuades Candide that, if they can't fight against the Jesuits, they should fight for them. They make their way through the jungle and arrive at the Jesuit camp where Candide is amazed to find that the Father Superior is none other than Maximilian, Cunegonde's brother, who was reported to have been killed in the war but who has had a miraculous escape, similar to his sister's. After a fond reunion, Candide explains that he intends to marry Cunegonde. Maximilian is so enraged at the prospect of his sister marrying a bastard commoner that he draws his sword to kill Candide, but Candide runs him through first, and he and Cacambo make their escape once more.

After yet another narrow escape from a tribe of philosophical cannibals, Candide and Cacambo arrive at an impassable river. A small canoe is moored to the bank. They have no choice but to get into it and drift downstream. The river turns into a raging torrent and speeds the two friends through underground chasms until they are finally spewed out onto the shores of a strange and magical kingdom: "The Ballad of Eldorado."

The friends stay for a few months in Eldorado, enjoying the deep philosophical pleasures of a Utopian existence, but Candide's longing to see Cunegonde moves them on. They set off from Eldorado with a vast quantity of gold and precious stones loaded onto a hundred sheep but, by the time they arrive in Surinam, all but two of the sheep have been lost in a variety of disastrous accidents. In Surinam, they decide to part. Since it is too dangerous for Candide to return to Montevideo, Cacambo will take half of their fortune and go there alone to find Cunegonde and the Old Woman, while Candide will sail to Venice with the rest of the treasure. There, they will meet in the free Venetian state, where they can live in peace and security. But, within minutes of being parted from his trusty friend, Candide is in trouble again. A malicious local merchant and pirate called Vanderdendur cheats Candide out of his fortune and sails away, leaving him to sink in a leaky little boat: "Bon Voyage."

Candide swims ashore and decides that there must be something wrong with him as well as the world: "It Must Be Me." In the depths of despair, he advertises for a companion, but insists that he will only employ the unhappiest and most unfortunate person in the whole colony of Surinam. Without even applying for it, a miserable old road-sweeper called Martin gets the job: "Words Words Words." Candide and Martin set sail for Venice. On the way, they witness the sinking of Vanderdendur's ship, and Candide manages to save a large part of his fortune from the wreckage. Martin turns out to be the most pessimistic man Candide has ever met – the perfect antidote to the meaningless optimism of his old master, Pangloss. The two men change boats at Marseilles, boarding a Tunisian galley bound for Venice and – wonder of wonders – who should be rowing in the galley, chained side by side, but Pangloss and Maximilian. They have both had miraculous escapes from being hanged and stabbed, respectively, and both have fallen afoul of the Tunisian authorities for sexual misdemeanors and wound up on the same punishment ship. Candide, Martin, Maximilian and Pangloss arrive in Venice: "Money, Money, Money."

Candide rents a small palazzo on the Grand Canal. Pangloss and Maximilian take to the life at once, spending vast quantities of Candide's money in the casinos. Martin and Candide spend their days looking for Cunegonde, who should have arrived from Montevideo with Cacambo. Cunegonde is nowhere to be found, but they do meet up with Paquette, the chamber-maid from the Baron's castle, who tells them her story... another woeful tale of disease, prostitution and degradation. One night, Candide and Martin find Cacambo, who has been imprisoned by monks on the cemetery island of San Michelle and forced to work as a grave-digger. He has lost all of his half of the treasure and has become separated from Cunegonde and the Old Woman after arriving in Venice with them. But he has remained faithful to Candide, thus proving that honesty exists and that Martin's universal pessimism is no more justified than Pangloss' optimism.

The next night is the Carnival Ball at the Doge's palace. Candide, Cacambo and Martin put on masks and go the ball, sure that they will find Cunegonde there. At the ball, Candide is pursued all evening by a pair of rapacious masked women who try to fleece him for his money: "The Venice Gavotte." Pangloss arrives from the casino with a whole gaggle of whores and hangers-on just as Candide starts to lose his patience and give up the search for Cunegonde. Suddenly, he realizes who the masked women are; he rips off one of their masks to reveal... Cunegonde! The other figure unmasks, revealing herself to be the Old Woman. Candide is devastated by the terrible change in Cunegonde, singing "Nothing More than This" while Cunegonde herself is utterly humiliated.

Weeks go by, and all is misery in Candide's palazzo. Candide himself is silent and distant, refusing to talk to Cunegonde or to anyone else. The rest of the "family" of Cacambo, Paquette, the Old Woman, Maximilian and Pangloss are all stuck in their own personal miseries, with only Martin attempting to cajole them out of their self-centered woe: "What's the Use."

Candide's silence remains unbroken until he is walking through the dark alleyways of Venice one night, when he sees six figures in the mist, all crowned. They get into a gondola and float down the Grand Canal towards the lagoon. As Candide follows from the shore, he hears them discussing the temporary nature of power and their decision to return to a more natural way of life: "The Kings' Barcarolle." This is the inspiration that Candide has been looking for. He returns to the palazzo at dawn and tells his "family" that he is moving to the mountains. They can go or stay as they please, but the money stays with him. He also informs Maximilian that he intends to marry Cunegonde. Despite everything Candide has done for him, Maximilian is still hysterically and snobbishly opposed to the marriage... but powerless to prevent it.

Of course, the whole household agrees to go with Candide. They all walk for days until they arrive at a little valley high in the mountains. Here, Candide tells them, they will live, but they must all work. It is only work that will keep them sane and healthy. They all agree, but Pangloss and Martin start to argue as to whether this is a pessimistic or optimistic outcome. Candide interrupts them with a repeat of the chorale from the first scene: "Universal Good." Everyone joins in as an agreement to rid their lives of pointless theologies and philosophies.

Candide and Cunegonde pledge themselves to each other and to the growing of their garden. At the and of all their terrible misfortunes and arduous travels, after a lifetime of thinking and wondering and hoping, all they can say is that they should live in peace, work hard, not hurt anyone else and make their garden grow. Their friends agree: "Make Our Garden Grow."