By Joshua Kosman,
Pictured: Randall Bunnell (left), Krista Wigle and Andres Ramirez dazzle as a jazzy Greek chorus in Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” at Opera Parallèle.
Photo by: Steve DiBartolomeo
Long before “Mad Men” there was “Trouble in Tahiti,” Leonard Bernstein’s witty and haunting one-act opera about the alienation lurking beneath the sunny veneer of midcentury American suburbia. On Friday night, in a vivacious and beautifully rendered performance by Opera Parallèle, that tale seemed as timeless as ever.

Not that there’s much of a tale, really. Instead, Bernstein’s 45-minute opus, set to his own libretto, gives us a snapshot of discontent, a single day in the increasingly estranged marriage of Sam and Dinah.

Sam goes to the office, where he sits behind a big wooden desk making phone calls and writing checks, and fancies himself a master of the universe because he wins a handball tournament at his gym. Dinah visits her analyst and goes to the movies. Neither says anything about the despair eating away at them.

Bernstein wrote “Trouble in Tahiti” in 1951, which gives it the feel of reportage, and the jazzy trio of radio singers who set the scene – like a Greek chorus of Andrews Sisters – is a dazzling touch. (Thirty years later, Bernstein would revisit the piece, embedding it as a central flashback in the more ambitious three-act opera “A Quiet Place.”)

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