The Portrait of Bernstein’s aria GLITTER AND BE GAY

Read Interesting facts and hear great YouTube Videos about the famous Aria “GLITTER AND BE GAY“.


If you want to hear more about the operetta CANDIDE, click on the link to the operetta portrait


The Aria – Synopsis & Background



In the castle Thunder-ten-Tronk in backward Westphalia. Candide, the Baron’s illegitimate son, lives there with his family. He is a cheerful and simple soul and is in love with his half-sister Cunegonde who is addicted to luxury, and who returns his feelings. The family leads a happy and carefree life at the castle. Dr. Pangloss, the house philosopher, taught the family to be happy, since one lives in the best of all possible worlds. He dispels any doubts that there might be adversities in life, he can even gain good things from things like war.
Candide and Cunegonde meet in the park and dream of their future. But their expectations diverge. Cunegonde has luxury and jewellery in mind, Candide dreams of a simple life on a farm with many children. But both are busy with their own dreams, and they don’t recognize the deep ditch.
The family forbids the improper marriage and chases Candide away. He’s deeply saddened that he has to leave Cunegonde. But he wants to look ahead, Pangloss taught him optimism, he believes in fate, which offers him the best of all possible worlds.
Westphalia is afflicted by a war. Candide is forced to be recruited. He is tortured after an attempt at desertion and manages to return to the castle in the second attempt. There he finds his family dead in the ruins of the castle. Cunegonde was raped by the soldiers several times before her death. Candide says goodbye to his dead lover.
Some time later in Paris. A courtesan lives there, kept by two lovers, the Archbishop of Paris and a rich Jewish merchant. It’s Cunegonde, miraculously back with the living.. She despises her life, but she loves the luxury it offers.


Although the title role belongs to the male role of Candide, the most famous aria is sung by Cunegonde. It subsequently became a showpiece for coloratura sopranos. Bernstein called Candide a Valentine ticket to European opera. This aria by Cunegonde, which is about luxury and jewellery, is not set in Paris by chance, for it is a blatant parody of Gounod’s “Jewellery Aria” from his masterpiece Faust.

This piece is an aria for coloratura soprano. It is a soprano piece with the aspiration of an operatic aria. It presents the interpreter with some difficulties. Firstly, the aria has a large range – three high Eb’s must be sung! – and secondly, some of the ornate scales are extremely intricate. In addition, the whole thing has to be sung with apparent ease and wit – after all, we are in a comedy.

It is a wonderful portrait of the Cunegonde. Hypocritically she sings about her misery as a courtesan, but again and again the joy about her acquired wealth and jewellery breaks out of her in the dazzling chorus “What’s the use”. How can one not think of Rosalinda’s famous chorus  «Oh je wie rührt mich dies» (“How sad is all this”) from Strauss’ Fledermaus !



Vocal fach “dramatic coloratura soprano”


The role of Cunegonde is written for a dramatic coloratura soprano. The dramatic coloratura soprano must have both coloratura ability and the ability to master dramatic expression with a larger vocal volume.




The Aria – the text of GLITTER AND BE GAY

And here I am, my heart breaking
Forced to glitter, forced to be gay

Glitter and be gay
That’s the part I play
Here I am in Paris, France
Forced to bend my soul
To a sordid role
Victimised by bitter
Bitter circumstance

Alas, for me, had I remained
Beside my lady mother
My virtue had remained unstained
Until my maiden hand was gained
By some ‘Grand Duke’ or other…

Ah, ’twas not to be
Harsh necessity
Brought me to this gilded cage
Born to higher things
Here I drop my wings
Singing of a sorrow
Nothing can assuage

And yet, of course, I rather like to revel, ah ha!
I have no strong objection to champagne, ah ha!
My wardrobe is expensive as the devil, ah ha!
Perhaps it is ignoble to complain!

Enough, enough
Of being basely tearful
I’ll show my noble stuff




Famous interpretations of GLITTER AND BE GAY



 Barbara Cook was the first Cunegonde. The casting team then had great difficulty finding a suitable person who could manage the high notes.  Bernstein selected her personally and coached her for this difficult role. She compared the singing of this piece with an athletic record. On the recording, one no longer feels the drudgery, the joy of singing in this piece is contagious.

Glitter and be gay – Cook


You hear another interpretation by Scarlett Strallen. She makes the Royal Albert Hall boil.

Glitter and be gay – Strallen


June Anderson was the Cunegonde of Bernstein’s 1989 revision. We hear her  with Leonard Bernstein himself at the desk.

Glitter and be gay – Cook


Paired with great comic talent: Kirstin Chenoweth.

Glitter and be gay – Chenoweth


It is no coincidence that Diane Damrau and Natalie Dessay sang the aria of cunegonde. Both were also famous queens of the night, in whose spirit Bernstein also composed “Glitter and be gay”, the union of parody and coloratura.

Glitter and be gay – Damrau


Dessay even goes to the A flat at the end.

Glitter and be gay – Dessay







Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to the aria “GLITTER AND BE GAY” from the opera CANDIDE from Leonard Bernstein.







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