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Bernstein, Leonard: Trouble In Tahiti (NPD 85641)

Bernstein, Leonard: Trouble In Tahiti (NPD 85641)


 
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Bernstein's one-act opera from 1952, Trouble in Tahiti, remains an entertaining and affecting work. Its exploration of the emptiness of a marriage in trouble and its sometimes harsh view of suburban life may now seem familiar, but it was unusual and certainly forward-looking in the early 50s. Bernstein's libretto is intelligent and often quite inventive. We watch a day in the lives of Sam and Dinah, beginning at the breakfast table, moving through the office, the psychotherapist's couch, the gym, a hat shop, and back home again. Irony lurks everywhere, provided particularly by the trio of "radio singers," who function as a Greek chorus, separating scenes, commenting on the action, or performing backup duties. While the music is a pastiche of popular and classical genres, suggesting Satie, vaudeville, the Modernaires, Broadway, Copland, and others, there are also features that have clearly influenced later composers and librettists. The often dark lyricism, the angular accompaniment figures, and the smart banter in some of the lyrics look forward to Sondheim. There are, in addition, some memorable melodies, and more than a few amusing moments, some provided by the Trio, but most found in Dinah's brilliant "What a movie."

This is an admirable performance by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, which, while not always ideal, presents the score in a faithful and musical manner. Elizabeth Shammash as Dinah seems a bit subdued at first but improves consistently as the opera progresses—this is, of course, understandable in a live performance. Samuel Hepler is a good, solid Sam, producing a nice sound but lacking depth and, perhaps more important, variety in characterization. In their scenes together, Sam and Dinah often seem to be speaking to the audience rather than each other. The Trio is good, although they find it hard to overcome their operatic training—the pseudoscat in the opening chorus, for example, sounds rigid and studied. But Glen Cortese keeps things moving nicely, especially in Dinah's two big solos, at the therapist's and in the hat shop.

-- Richard Burke, FANFARE [09/1999]