The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting
archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new
shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of
watching live theatre
Trouble In Tahiti
Opera North At Home Spring 2020
Leonard Bernstein wrote
both the music and the libretto for this one-act opera in 1952, at a
time when he had one foot in the classical music world and one on
Broadway. It raised some eyebrows at the time, not just for being in
English and on a contemporary subject, but for its less-than-rosy
picture of American life and for a musical vocabulary that drew on
This 2017 production by
Opera North captures all its
power and charm. With a chorus of two men and a woman providing
introduction and occasional commentary, the opera uncovers the hidden
unhappiness of a typical suburban couple.
Following some weary
bickering over breakfast – 'Pass me the toast' – 'You might have
said please' – he goes off to exercise his power at work while she
tells her therapist of a dream of happiness that taunts her. They
meet accidentally at lunch but both invent excuses not to spend time
He plays a game of
handball and exults in being one of the
world's chosen winners, and she bunks off to a bad movie (the South
Seas adventure of the title). Back together at night they join in a
duet of yearning for something better – 'Is there a day?' –
without really being willing to work toward it.
That summary implies
a cynical tone that the opera does not avoid, but that is tempered by
a sympathy for both characters and by music that draws us into the
unhappiness that defines their lives.
'I was standing in a
her aria about her dream, has a simple and haunting melody, while his
later aria 'There is a law about men' subtly exposes the
trying-to-convince-himself subtext of his celebration of being a
winner. Their lunchtime duet is actually overlapping soliloquies, the
shared music only underlining their lack of connection, while her
account of the Tahiti movie is a full-scale Broadway comic romp.
Those who know Bernstein
largely via the Broadway connection will
hear occasional melodic hints of On The Town, Wonderful Town and
West Side Story, most notably in the final duet, whose subject of
yearning for something more inspired a melody not too far from
'There's A Place For Us.'
For the Opera North
Matthew Eberhardt and designer Charles Edwards chose to not hide the
theatrical artificiality of the work. The chorus are introduced in a
radio studio, openly holding their sheet music and singing into
microphones, and the plot scenes take place on obvious stage sets
dominated by enlarged magazine advertisements of the consumer age.
goes without saying that the singing is flawless. Wallis Giunta as
the wife has the greatest opportunity to display the range and
beauty of her voice, particularly in her dream aria, while Quirijn De
Lang subtly captures the pain of a man whose singing is sometimes
trying to hide his feelings.
The video recording is excellent, though you may wish your computer had a better speaker system.
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