Opera lovers, musical fans and Sondheim devotees are treated to a top-notch production courtesy of Opera North’s Trouble in Tahiti.

It’s already 1952, and Bernstein is already spotting the fractures in the American Dream. Sam and Dinah have it all, apart from happiness in each other’s company. Their perfect marriage is crumbling, and there’s only enough to keep them together as they soliloquize about the life they find themselves thriving and trapped in. Across seven acts, Bernstein’s luscious score fuses jazz and opera, sending up and celebrating the genres that dominated the period in this satirical and often uncomfortable musing on modernity.

Performed by a close-knit ensemble, the six strong cast deliver strong performances, that more than make up for the extensive casts of most musicals. Joseph Shovelton, Ffur Wyn and Nicholas Butterfield tread the fine line of the two musical genres beautifully as they deliver delightful performances as the ever invasing chorus. Not only do they demonstrate their versatility as singers but show quality direction by conductor, Jonathan Heyward. In fact, we can’t get enough of them. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta’s Dinah is delightful storyteller and performer, particularly excelling in luring the audience into her dream world of the garden in There is a Garden. Meanwhile, baritone Quirijn de Lang is delivers a strong performance as Sam, commanding the stage with brooding masculinity so typical of the period. This is certainly no easy 45-minute sing, and this well cast pairing make it feel more than effortless.

While this may be intended ‘curtain raiser’ Matthew Eberhardt direction lifts it to a higher status. The direction may be subtle but it more than rises to the challenge of this demanding work. Charles Edward, George Leigh and Hannah Clark’s design and costume evokes the trials and tribulations of the period. Advertisements form the wallpaper of their stifling world, hammering at American domesticity in the aftermath of the war. It’s oppressively saccharine, minimal and effective.

Trouble in Tahiti is pertinent lockdown viewing. Difficult? Yes. Beguiling? Yes. If you’ve never dipped your toes into opera, why not try here? https://www.operanorth.co.uk/watch-online/watch-online-trouble-in-tahiti/

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 8th May 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★