If you think that you don’t like opera, take a look at this. Opera North are streaming Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein on their YouTube channel from 7.00pm on Wednesday, 6th May until Monday, 1st June.
This production was first performed at Leeds Grand Theatre in October, 2017 as part of their Little Greats Season which is when this recording was made. How’s that for foresight! I have a soft spot for this piece as it was one of the first Opera North presentations I attended, in fact it was one of the first operas of any kind I had been to.
The Little Greats series was a group of six short works aimed as much at opera virgins as aficionados and it certainly worked in my case as I have now seen several more full-length pieces since my initiation. They each lasted about an hour – this one is 50 minutes – and were shown in pairs on the same evening, meaning that you could spend the whole night at the opera or dip your toe into the water and sample just the one. Brilliant.
The night I went Trouble in Tahiti was paired with a work called Osud which redefined the meaning of the word ‘weird’. This one, however, is perfect for the first-timer, being written by Leonard Bernstein and very reminiscent of 1950s films. I did a combined review of the two works and I have reproduced my original piece below. Amazingly this was two and a half years ago, it seems like last week, and, as I said, I was a novice so the writing and thoughts may leave a little to be desired, but you should get the drift. I have since come to terms with the whole of the dialogue being sung!
I hope that you decide to give it a try and that you feel better for it. It will make a change from lock-down Tiger King or Candy Crush. It will also take your mind off your self haircutting attempt. Being bald can have its advantages.
If Trouble in Tahiti leaves you wanting to sample more Opera North works then see the end of this article for details of what else is on offer. What a great way to sample a different art form for nowt.
For those who are D/deaf, hard of hearing, blind or partially sighted there are British Sign Language, audio described and captioned versions. For all details of how to watch please go to http://www.operanorth.co.uk/watch-online
Trouble in Tahiti – Original Review
The second offering was Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein a totally different kettle of fish. It was first performed in 1952 and has a distinct jazz element with American humour which put it a little more in my comfort zone. This is a tale of an unsteady relationship but it has undertones of misogyny and feminism, a word which had not yet been coined.
Sam and Dinah are a couple living the American Dream, they have a fine suburban home cleverly represented by posters for the latest labour saving gadgets on the two walls of the family kitchen. They also have a young son, Junior, whose birthday it is on the day that the action takes place. The only other cast members are a vocal trio who are in a radio studio singing songs extolling the virtues of living in suburbia which punctuate the various scenes. Junior is in a school play that afternoon but Sam is in the final of a handball tournament at the gym and puts that before going to watch it. Dinah accuses him of having an affair with his secretary, which he denies but it doesn’t matter very much either way as the marriage is obviously on shaky ground.
We see Sam at the office making deals, and money, before asking his secretary if he has ever made a pass at her. She informs him that he has but he put it down to an ‘accident’. Meanwhile Dinah is at her analyst’s office, well it is the American Dream, where she describes her recurrent dream of being in an overgrown garden from which there is no escape despite her being beckoned to another beautiful garden by a mysterious voice. By chance Sam and Dinah later run into one another and make excuses not to go to lunch together despite their having nothing else planned.
Sam wins the handball tournament and sings about how men are born unequal, there are winners like him and others who always lose no matter how hard they try. Meanwhile Dinah has been to the cinema to see a film ’Trouble in Tahiti’, which she at first dismisses as technicolour drivel but then gets lost in the idea of a South Sea island way of life. She snaps out of the dream as she realises she needs to go home to make dinner. This means that she didn’t go to Junior’s play either.
When Sam gets home he reflects on another law of men, that even the winner has to pay for what he gets. Over dinner the couple try to talk about their relationship but it comes to naught and at Sam’s suggestion they go to the cinema to see the new film which he says has something to do with Tahiti. They have no spark in their marriage so they settle for ‘bought-and-paid-for magic’.
I must say that I enjoyed this much more than Osud, the story was well told and the music much more melodious. It seemed to be a bit of a dummy run for West Side Story as there were phrases and riffs used which would later reappear in the songs ‘Tonight’ and ‘There’s A Place For Us’. The humour was also a little more subtle. Dinah, when dismissing the film as being drivel describes a love scene as being set on an island with ‘a man, a woman and a hundred piece symphony orchestra’ at which point she looked into the pit at the front of the stage. I found this doubly amusing as that could be the definition of opera. The final moment of the piece shows the couple on a platform which is heading for a cinema screen bearing the legend ‘The End’. Is it just the end of the opera or of the relationship?
Once more the singers were excellent and the orchestra superb.
I attended the Little Greats as they were meant not only for opera buffs but as tasters for the uninitiated like myself who would probably not risk losing three hours of their life gambling on enjoying a full length piece. Having seen four of them I must admit that I still don’t ‘get’ opera. The arias are easily accessible but the seemingly tuneless music employed to evoke mood and emphasis during conversations I found to be less effective than if they had been acted without the music using the inflection of the spoken voice although I suppose that that would make it a musical. This was best illustrated in Trouble in Tahiti when Sam was singing down the telephone! In the same piece they did in fact abandon the singing for a few moments during a soul searching scene at the dinner table.
Other Opera North productions available for home viewing.
The Turn of The Screw on OperaVision
Wagner’s Ring Cycle from opera north.uk/watch-online
The Adventures of Pinocchio is available on Marquee TV
Don Giovanni on Digital Theatre.