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The seventeen-fifties discovered Western civilization in the midst of its Age of Enlightenment. That lengthy period launched on a big scale the notion that, by way of the usage of rationality and scientific data, humanity may make progress. For the Enlightenment’s true believers, it could have finally turn out to be fairly simple certainly to imagine that we had nowhere to go however up, and would ultimately attain a state of perfection. No such fantasies, after all, for Jean-Marie Arouet, higher often called Voltaire. Regardless of being an Enlightenment icon, he pulled no punches in attacking what he noticed as its delusions, most lastingly in his 1759 satirical novel Candide, ou l’Optimisme.
Two centuries later, Western civilization, and particularly the freshly fashioned civilization of america of America, had entered a brand new age of cause. Or quite, it had entered an age of technical, industrial, and organizational “know-how.”
The conviction that America might be perfected by way of engineered techniques performed its half in producing a level of prosperity the world had by no means recognized (and would have scarcely been possible in Voltaire’s day). Nevertheless it additionally had grimmer manifestations, corresponding to McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, whose procedures floor away on the core of the anti-Communist “pink scare.”
In Candide, Voltaire takes to process quite a lot of not simply beliefs however establishments, together with the Portuguese Inquisition. The playwright Lillian Hellman, who’d been blacklisted after showing earlier than the HUAC in 1947, “noticed a sinister parallel between the Inquisition’s church-sponsored purges and the ‘Washington Witch Trials,’ fueled by anti-Communist hysteria.” So says the web site of Leonard Bernstein, Hellman’s collaborator on what would turn out to be a comic-operetta adaptation of Candide. With contributions from lyricist John LaTouche, poet Richard Wilbur, and Algonquin Round Table wit Dorothy Parker, their manufacturing was able to open within the fall of 1956.
Stripped within the eleventh hour of Hellman’s most direct topical assaults, and even then criticized for over-seriousness, the unique Broadway manufacturing of Candide ended after 73 performances. (Recordings of the unique manufacturing can be purchased online.) Nonetheless, there was trigger for optimism about its future: the present can be revived in London with a revised guide two years later, with additional new versions to comply with within the nineteen-seventies and eighties, its lyrics supplemented by no much less a Broadway grasp than Stephen Sondheim. The two-and-a-half hour video above combines highlights of two consecutive performances in 1989, performed by Bernstein himself within the 12 months earlier than his demise. “Like its hero, Candide is maybe destined by no means to search out its good kind and performance,” notes Bernstein’s web site. “Within the closing evaluation, nevertheless, which will show philosophically acceptable.”
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Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embody the Substack publication Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll by way of Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The City in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.