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Fringe Festival Review: Trouble in Tahiti

Fringe Festival Review: Trouble in Tahiti

Review by Lorraine Ward

Trouble in Tahiti
NIMBY Opera Company
Wesley Methodist Community Church, 75 Taranaki St
Feb 10, 12, 14, 17, 18

This last performance of Leonard Bernstein's one act opera, 'Trouble in Paradise', took place late on mellow Wellington afternoon at Wesley Methodist Community Church. Inside the church, a comfortable crowd of Wellington music lovers sat on pews. Some of the pews had hymn sheets in Samoan on them, reminders of a church service earlier in the day. The sanctuary area at the front of the church was set simply: two coat stands, two tables, one chair, one bench and three screens.

To quote the director's notes:

Bernstein envisaged a piece for operatic voice, written in an extraordinary range of genres and performance styles, with every dramatic moment coloured by a different rhythm and musical idea. It brings together a Trio, who Bernstein intended as 'Greek chorus, born of the Radio Commercial', with the story of Dinah and Sam, a couple whose love has waned in the face of day-to-day life.'

Jazzy piano music introduces the Trio (soprano Georgia Jamieson-Emms, tenor Rhys Hingston and bass Craig Beardsworth) who sing a chirpy little ditty in praise of suburbia and its little white houses. The irony becomes obvious when we meet married couple Sam (Brendan Casey) and Dinah (Barbara Paterson) who sing an operatic duet made up of lines from a domestic dispute: 'This coffee is burned' ... 'make it yourself'. The couple's arguement includes their son's school play, Sam's commitment to a handball tournament, money, and alleged infidelity.
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Sam heads off to work, Dinah goes to visit her analyst. Throughout the opera the Trio are there, commenting on the action or participating as analyst, beleaguered secretary, sycophantic co-workers, Tahitian movie actors.

At work Sam shows himself to be a real go-getter, closing deals and advising his secretary that he has never made any improper advances towards her. At her analyst's office, Dinah sings poignantly of a recurring dream about a choked and stone-filled garden, and an unidentified voice calling her towards 'harmony and grace, a quiet place'. Sam and Dinah bump into each other crossing town. Neither can admit to lunching alone, for fear of falling into another dispute.

Sam wins the handball tournament! His song of triumph in the shower (those screens again) and out of it draped in a towel is one of the humorous highlights of the show. Dinah, meanwhile, has spent the afternoon at 'terrible-awful' movie musical and she and a lei-garlanded, ukulele-toting Trio describe it to us in hilarious detail.

At the end of the day the two must face each other. Seated at opposite ends of the bench, which has now become their couch, they sing yearningly of their individual searches for quietness, rather than despair or screaming silence. Their only solution is to go to the movies together, hand-in-hand, back to 'Trouble in Tahiti'. Neither of them has gone to their son's school play, each engulfed in the struggle that is their marriage and their own problems.

The singing is superb and is served by a skilful pianist (Catherine Norton). The production is flawless. Wesley Methodist Community Church, with its giant metal cross and huge pipe organ, enhances rather than overshadows this tale of unfulfilled dreams and unanswered prayers.


Trouble in Tahiti press release
Fringe 07 website
Scoop Full Coverage: Fringe 07

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