Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to opera and operettas and whether they are true or false.
OPERA URBAN LEGEND: Richard Wilbur, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry and the second United States Poet Laureate, actually wrote the lyrics to a number of songs from Candide, including “Glitter and Be Gay.”
Richard Wilbur (born in New York City in 1921) is one of the very best poets of the second half of the 20th Century, and even in the 21st Century he has continued his same, steady delivery of excellent poetry.
Wilbur, like most of the men in his generation, fought in World War Two. Wilbur served in the Army during the war and saw quite a bit of action in Europe from 1943 until the end of the war. His war experiences clearly influenced his poetry dramatically, as much of his most celebrated early work concerned itself with putting order to a chaotic post-War world.
Wilbur’s work, while beautiful, is written in a traditional style, similar to the work of Robert Frost. During the second half of the 20th Century, however, a more non-formalist style became the more celebrated style of poetry among critics, like the confessional poets Slyvia Plath, Robert Lowell and John Berryman (all peers of Wilbur, but all three killed themselves decades ago while Wilbur is still alive today).
Because of this, Wilbur sometimes almost seems to be overlooked in poetry history, as his work does not leap out as much stylistically, but he has significant amounts of accolades. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 and 1989 and he was named the second Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987 (the position existed for many years before 1987, it just wasn’t CALLED that until 1986).
However, one facet of his career that really has been overlooked is he actually did song lyrics for an operetta!!
Leonard Bernstein’s Candide began as an idea by Lillian Hellman to do a straight play adaptation of Voltaire’s classic novella of the same name. Hellman figured that a good idea would be to intersperse music occasionally into the play and she approached Bernstein about the idea. Bernstein was so thrilled with the idea that he soon basically took over the project, and to help him with the lyrics, he approached a practical Who’s Who of famous writers to do the lyrics.
First James Agee, then Dorothy Parker, then John Latouche and finally, Richard Wilbur!
Wilbur actually provided the lyrics for the most famous song from the operetta, “Glitter and Be Gay.”
Here’s Kristin Chenoweth performing it…
Thanks to catchoth for the clip!
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org