The presentation of it is different from most operas we have seen so far. Bernstein presents the work with the orchestra on stage and the singers presenting it as an oratorio instead of as a drama.
Bernstein chose an eighteenth-century novel “Candide” by the French philosopher Voltaire as his subject matter. This seems unusual for the mid twentieth century composer. In the novel Voltaire savagely satirises Optimism. Dr Pangloss is the eternal optimist who believes that everything that happens, happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire tests this by putting Candide, the innocent young man, through a series of wildly improbable events all of which are increasingly unpleasant. Monarchy, the churches, war, greed and betrayal were savagely attacked by Voltaire and turned into some marvellously amusing arias by Bernstein.
Born in America, Bernstein was quintessentially European in musical tastes and outlook and had been greatly affected by the events of the holocaust and the concentration camp orchestras in the Second World War. Composer and conductor (New York Philharmonic) he was one of the key musical influences in America in the twentieth century.