What makes Trouble in Tahiti such an unusual opera experience?
Opera Parallèle’s Artistic Director Nicole Paiement, who chose this work to conduct as this year’s second production, defines it this way: “Bernstein is one of the rare composers who are able to sit on the fence of opera and musical theater and in many ways transcends both genres.”
Trouble in Tahiti was composed in 1951 after his first great Broadway success of On the Town and before his now classic West Side Story. Later he wove the seven scenes from Tahiti into a larger production, A Quiet Place, providing some of that opera’s livelier moments.
“In Tahiti he invokes with disarming musical ease and accuracy the values of 1950’s society,” says Paiement. “The integration of popular idioms into a classically woven musical fabric makes the work refreshing and firmly grounded in the American culture of its time.”
In one act without intermission, it tells the story of Sam and Dinah, a young suburban couple in an unhappy marriage, through popular song styles and a conversational tone we know well. It’s the voice of a new postwar generation living a new wave of prosperity, but strangely unhappy and longing for deeper meaning.
Concept Designer and Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel’s staging captures the look of this era from magazine covers and B movie classics, projected on background screens that support the action on a large rotating turntable. And there’s a surprise film within the film featuring the cast of former Adler Fellow baritone Eugene Brancoveanu as Sam and mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez as Dinah.
Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge will be presented before Tahiti as a short prologue. Two bored couples playing their customary game of bridge fantasize about the state of their relationship as they play out their hands.
It’s an experience of artistic surprises and haunting music, in an experimental theater setting at Z Space that heightens the drama.
You won’t want to miss this show, Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27 at 8PM and Sunday, April 28 at 2PM at Z Space, 450 Florida Avenue, San Francisco.