Photo: Richard H Smith

Review: Trouble in Tahiti – Opera North

By Louise Brook
Streetwise Opera performer in Manchester

There was my mothering a swirling polka-dotted yellow, black & white skirt with a vivid yellow matching blouse, carrying the wicker picnic basket down the steps to Porthcurno Beach in Cornwall. We’d run on ahead, that is my four-year old sister and me, aged seven. Dad carrying lilos, towels, buckets & spades & sun-cream, was behind mum.

That memory was evoked by the bright pink patterned skirt of this 1950’s housewife in suburbia, as she swung round to greet her husband, home from work. She took his hat & coat & automatically hung them on the coats tank & returned to the cooker. The young housewife wearing a pretty frilly apron, tied at the waist, bent down to take a large casserole dish out of the oven & placed it on the table. Another flowered Pyrex dish with vegetables was also put on their small dining-table.

Trouble in Tahiti cleverly portrays how life was in a small town in America in the 1950’s. The young couple & their son lived in a house with low white wooden fencing surrounding an immaculate garden. The interior was full of all the latest mod-cons, which we watch in the ads, sung by a trio. The attractive jingles entice their audiences to buy all these wonderful new products for the kitchen-diner & open-plan lounge & bedroom. All is shining in new materials never seen before. Their relationship is not so perfect & wonderful.

There are awkward silences. The audience can see all isn’t honkey-dory between husband & wife.

We witness the manner in which men treated women in those days & compare how life is today with the working woman, bringing up a family & holding down a job, as well as cleaning the house, though, in some families, the husband & wife share domestic duties.

Beautiful singing rang out into the auditorium and I believe The Lowry wasn’t the ideal venue for perfect clarity.

I learnt that Bernstein wrote Trouble in Tahiti on his honeymoon. This fact took me back to my own honeymoon, where the evening of the day we had arrived, my husband & I sat on the balcony, opposite each other, this man in my life with whom I wanted to start a family. He was silent. I wanted to chat, but nothing was forthcoming from him.

What had I done?

I wonder if Bernstein asked himself the same question. I know we were both tired after all the endless wedding preparations & the exciting wedding day, surrounded by family & friends. Even so, I thought; just a few words would have made all the difference & made me feel happier.

We don’t know what really happens to this 50’s young man & wife as the years pass by & the husband repeats the daily routine & goes to the flashy gym & the wife dishes up meal after meal & spends his money.

I hope the young wife has the courage to leave her husband & develop her own talents, maybe pursue an education course with practical training. The eternal problem is money! How will she pay for food & a comfortable abode.

In the 50’s it wasn’t so easy to leave a marriage & survive on your own.

So, maybe she continued to remain within the marriage & improve her own independent life, like taking up painting & discovering she had a flair for this hobby. This happy lady could well sell her unusual creations to friends & in time she could develop her love of art into a thriving business.


Opera North’s Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein – Autumn 2021

Revival opening performance: Leeds Grand Theatre, 16 October 2021
Joseph Shovelton, Laura Kelly-McInroy and Nicholas Butterfield as the Trio, Quirijn de Lang as Sam and Sandra Piques Eddy as Dinah
Conductor Antony Hermus, Director Matthew Eberhardt, Set Designer Charles Edwards, Costume Designer Hannah Clark, Lighting Designers Ben Pickersgill and Charles Edwards, Movement Director Tim Claydon

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