Opera North - Trouble in Tahiti / Symphonic Dances Review | The Lowry | Manchester
West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein turns his Broadway panache to a short 50-minute gen of an opera that packs a powerful punch.
Playing with your expectations of what an opera should be, Bernstein blends musical theatre, movie magic and jazz for a vibrantly crafted depiction of a broken American Dream. The story of married couple Sam and Dinah unfurl alongside three absurdly happy crooners who open the opera with honey vocals and longing lyrics about love and marriage. However, the shows’ jazzy introduction is a deceptive and playful mask for a story mired in melodrama. The story follows Dinah (Sandra Piques Eddy) plagued with insecurities and reservations about her possibly cheating husband as the couple begins at the breakfast table exhaustively arguing over burnt coffee and toast.
As the Lowry audience peep over their white picket fence and through the windows of their little white house, their suburban life begins to unravel inside their aesthetically charming 50’s cover as the production balances the couples’ separate lives through silhouetted scenery, animates choreography and vintage costumes. Director Matthew Eberhardt ensures that Opera North’s production has a rich, live orchestration and its signature 50’s stylings stand out amongst the couples’ drab lives.
After Sam (Quirijn de Lang) makes a break from his tense breakfast conversation the story disjoints their painful and melancholic tunes with jaunty intervals from the backing jazz singers and a fabulous fantasy moment that will have you wishing that the stories sequel (A Quiet Place 1983) followed straight after. With catchy tracks including a duet of despair singing “Why did I have to lie”, Bernstein’s experimental opera is equally a subtle and unexpected piece of work. Compared to older operas this 1952 sample has far fewer shenanigans happening within its story. As a result, Trouble in Tahiti remains a relatable tale that manages to offer a retro production that feels contemporary due to its consumerist narrative.
Lang and Eddy carry the tale with compelling and soulful performances that parade the themes of grief and resentment within their confined relationship. However, the shows biggest number, Island Magic propels the story into a beautiful fantasy that embraces the Hollywood style and scores it mocks, specifically Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. With a gripping performance from Sandra Piques Eddy, the elegant Dinah reimagines herself starring in a nonsensical Hollywood feature with the help of her jazzy trio giving the full splendour of the cinema live on the Lowry stage.
Opera North layers the impactful short story with classic 50’s visuals that imprint this dynamic production. It is the perfect quick scat into what Opera has to offer audiences, showcasing oodles of culture, a look at the most up-to-date kitchen and a narrative that reminds audiences that the grass is not always greener.
To top off the production, Symphonic Dances end the show with a riveting revival of West Side Story. As the Jets and Sharks dance battle on stage for the respect of the Lowry audience, the abridged edition of Bernstein’s work aids in highlighting his tremendous influence on musical theatre and brings this compelling production to a close.