The Meaning of “Candide"

New York City Opera is attempting (so far with some success, I’m happy to report: I’ve been a big fan for years) to rise from the ashes of its recent self-immolation of bankruptcy in 2013. Last season opened with a solid production of Tosca, a repeat of NYCO’s very first production in 1944 at New York’s City Center. Now in a temporary home – the 1,100-seat Rose Theatre at Columbus Circle’s Time-Warner Center – this season has so far seen a double bill of the one-acts Pagliacci and, in its New York premiere, Rachmaninoff’s gypsy tale Aleko.


And now, the second evening of opera: From the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (based on Voltaire’s novel, with a book by Hugh Wheeler and lyrics by many, including John La Touche and Stephen Sondheim), in a new production directed by Harold Prince.

So: a dark and cold January winter evening, cozy inside a theatre seemingly made for opera, a glorious, bubbling score, a lush production, and an operetta that, like the novel, puts stout and sharp pins in “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” But ends with the advice: “We'll do the best we know. We'll build our house and chop our wood, and make our garden grow.”

And it’s January 2017. In New York City. In the (dis)United States of America. And I’m thinking: "all well and good and fine and dandy.” But can I, today, just “tend to my own garden?” And what, exactly, does that mean?

Does “tending my own garden” mean ignoring the awful strangeness of today’s politics? Does it mean digging in for the latest in arts and sports and Internet dancing cats? Does it mean paying attention to my family, and letting it go at that?

Or, for me, does it mean that, as a citizen, my garden is my country, my world, our country, our world?

And if so, what am I planting? What is my spade? My fertilizer? Where does my energy go? How can I best deal with the weeds?

Will I march? What will I write? Shall I donate? To what? To whom?

What are the actions I can take “to make our garden grow?”

As Rachel Maddow is wont to say: “Watch This Space.”

And you, dear reader? I’m curious.