Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Richard Trinder
4:13 PM 17th October 2021

Tahiti In Leeds

Sandra Piques Eddy as Dinah
Sandra Piques Eddy as Dinah
4 Stars
Under the baton of Antony Hermus the Orchestra of Opera North has delivered an electrifying evening of Bernstein music at The Grand in Leeds. From the gloriously sad domestic drama of Trouble in Tahiti to the passion and relentless energy of the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, the orchestra is, frankly, superb.

Despite its diminutive stature, Trouble in Tahiti packs a punch. Only 50 minutes long, and steeped in the world of post war suburban America, the story portrays a man revelling in his own success and his wife who longs for a little more than domestic servitude. It reveals the significant cultural shifts of the period and parodies the expectations of 'domestic bliss' in the tidy little suburbs enveloping cities across the United States.

Joseph Shovelton, Laura Kelly-McInroy and Nicholas Butterfield as the Trio

Joseph Shovelton, Laura Kelly-McInroy and Nicholas Butterfield as the Trio

Joseph Shovelton, Laura Kelly-McInroy and Nicholas Butterfield make a splendid vocal trio in a scat-singing style Bernstein described as "A Greek chorus born of the radio commercial". They open the opera with 'the glories of Su-bur-bi-a', using the same pattern – c, f, g, c as the line "New York, New York" from the musical On The Town - also composed by Bernstein of course. Like all adverts, they speak of the 'wonderful life' and drip feed ideas like propaganda throughout the piece.

Quirijn de Lang as Sam and Sandra Piques Eddy as Dinah
Quirijn de Lang as Sam and Sandra Piques Eddy as Dinah
Sandra Piques Eddy and the ever reliable Quirijn de Lang make a lovely couple (Dinah and Sam) whose marriage is falling apart right in front of our eyes. Sam is obsessed with work and the gym, whilst Dinah just needs to be loved. Almost forgotten by the couple is Junior (Isaac Sarsfield) who floats around observing his parents' decaying marriage, but is destined to become little more than collateral damage. Bernstein intended for the boy to be spoken about, but never seen. I feel it rather adds to the poignancy of the piece to have him as a visible presence on stage.

And Isaac Sarsfield continued his stage role in a piece called Halfway and Beyond, a 10 minute piece written and spoken by Khadijah Ibrahiim and illustrated by Phoenix Dance. It makes a bridge between the idealised but ultimately barren world of Trouble in Tahiti and the urban dissonance of West Side Story.

Set again in the mid 1950s USA, this time specifically in the Upper West Side of New York City - then a multiracial, blue-collar neighbourhood - West Side Story is Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's musical interpretation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Symphonic Dances lack the full narrative of West Side Story but the fusion of opera, ballet, jazz and classical, as well as complex instrumental demands on the orchestra, makes this a spellbinding piece and reveals the considerable talent embodied in the 'house band' - a full 60 piece orchestra on this occasion.

Fast paced, rhythmically challenging and relentless; step forward Phoenix Dance. Choreographer Dane Hurst conjures a fitting partner to the Symphonic Dances with all the energy, vibrancy and pace of a large orchestra in full flight. Hurst's new work is a response to the themes of Symphonic Dances but draws on events in his native South Africa during the same time period as Bernstein's work.

The three disparate works are beautifully glued together by Bernstein's incredible music and with an orchestra in top form. Whilst each part of the evening's performance held much to be admired, in combination this makes an event not to be missed and I recommend it highly.