I had no idea until recently that Bernstein had written an opera based on Voltaire’s Candide. Cunegonde’s aria, Glitter and Be Gay, is the only piece from it that I have heard so far, and it’s absolutely brilliant fun.
I have a bit of a history with Candide. My English teacher in Year Ten made me read it, because he thought I was far too much of an optimist (though I have never been known to say that everything is for the best in this best of possible worlds). I hated it. I found it utterly depressing and did not see the humour in it at all.
I read it two years later in French, and at some point in between I had figured out that particular style of ironic humour where the authors don’t actually want you to believe everything they say implicitly, and I liked it a lot more – though I have to say, Cunegonde still gets an appalling character arc out of the thing.
In this aria, she has become a courtesan, and she is bemoaning her lost purity, largely because she feels that she ought to do so, and is trying to convince herself that her glee and delight in jewelry is a sign of character when faced with adversity rather than a sign that she has always liked pretty, shiny things. Kristen Chenoweth plays this with great humour (and much hidden jewelry in the furniture), but others have played it differently – Diana Damrau‘s Cunegonde is much more capricious, and Natalie Dessay’s is tragic and a little unhinged.
(Incidentally, despite the magnificently appropriate title to this aria, I did not in fact choose it in honour of the Mardi Gras and Midsumma Festival this weekend – I hadn’t even realised that it was on until Andrew pointed it out to me. I considered whether to choose something else, but decided against it. I wish my QUILTBAG friends an excellent weekend – glitter gaily and have a wonderful time.)