Written two years after Sheba, Leonard Bernstein’s mini-opera Trouble in Tahiti – the lunchtime show this season at Shaw – centres on another couple dealing with mid-marriage dissatisfaction. While the infrequently performed piece is not quite a masterpiece, it’s a must-see for fans of the West Side Story composer.
If Matthew Weiner green-lit a musical episode of Mad Men, it might be a little like this: Executive Sam (Mark Uhre, an actor with a wonderful voice, but easily as smug and punchable as Pete Campbell) works hard, plays hard and tries hard to avoid his domestic life, while his stay-at-home wife Dinah (Elodie Gillett, with an ethereal voice) spends her days complaining to her analyst or escaping to the local cinema. Their ennui, expressed operatically, is countered ironically by a chorus who scat about the supposed pleasures of suburban life in a series of radio jingles.
Granted, this is a topic tapped to exhaustion at this point, and Bernstein – acting as his own librettist – doesn’t have any spectacular insights into the ’burbs. But, musically, the score is a gorgeous, idiosyncratic blend of jazz and classical. Under the direction of Paul Sportelli, it is both stripped down (to be played by a four-piece band) and augmented (the trio is expanded into a nine-person chorus). Director Jay Turvey and choreographer Linda Garneau provide lovely pictures for the seven short scenes, the highlight coming in the final duet, where Sam and Dinah ask: “Can’t we find our way back to the garden where we began?”