LA Opera’s production of “Candide” | Photos by Ken Howard

Hit play below to listen to part one and two of our Arts Alive interview with LA Opera’s James Conlon.


The great American opera? I’ll give you a hint: It’s on stage right now at LA Opera.

The opera is Candide, by Leonard Bernstein. Okay, so it started out as a Broadway show and is technically considered an operetta, but LA Opera music director James Conlon tells me, Candide’s universality is what makes it, and Bernstein, so unique.

James Conlon: Leonard Bernstein was a renaissance man who composed, played the piano, conducted, taught, lectured, and was a public figure. He did it all. So, no, there’s no one like him. And I think it’s a mistake for people to try to imitate that or believe that they are. For me, that’s a dead end.

Brian Lauritzen: You’ve talked about his ability to be high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow all at the same time. The way that he was able to connect with people on multiple levels—as an intellectual, but also as a populist and evangelist for classical music in places that weren’t intellectual circles—I find that to be something that is really special as well.

JC: Look at what interested him. On the one hand, he was as American maybe not as apple pie, but American in a sense that he had a vision of what he wanted American music to become: something that was unique to our land. He wanted to write the Great American Opera that would be part of the classical music tradition while at the same time it would be specifically American. And this is what he did.

James Conlon conducts Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at LA Opera through February 18th. Starring Kelsey Grammer, Jack Swanson, Erin Morely, and Christine Ebersole. To learn more, click here.

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