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Vancouver Fringe Festival forays into opera with the captivating "Trouble in Tahiti"

The cast of Leondard  Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti

If you don’t go see Trouble in Tahiti produced by the Vancouver Concert Opera Co-Operative (VANCOCO) because it’s the first opera ever presented at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, then go because it’s one of the earliest works by Leonard Bernstein, the mastermind behind West Side Story and On the Town.

Managing director and artistic director of VANCOCO, Natalie Burdeny, said that Trouble in Tahiti immediately captivated her.

“When I heard the show, I said to myself, ‘I have to sing that’. It’s one of the few one act operas where the leads are a baritone and a mezzo, which is what Ed and I are.”

Referring to Ed Moran, the production manager for VANCOCO and director on this project, he also plays the Sam to Burdeny’s Dinah, a couple locked in a battle of communication ennui so often present in long term relationships.

The Greek chorus of Katherine Landry, Paul Just, and Grant Ludlow round out the cast and musical directer Kathleen Lohrenz Gable leads them on this musical journey.

Written in 1952 when Bernstein was 34, "Tahiti" is a seminal piece pointing to the nascent feminist movement after the Second World War, where unfulfiiled women were an adjunct to their husbands. Sam and Dinah live in the suburbs, where the American Dream flourishes and marketing that lifestyle was the popular culture of the day. The Greek Chorus are a living advertisement for that consumption, all shiny and new, that we still subscribe to today. Sadly, the dysfunction of Sam and Dinah’s relationship also still resonates.

“There was speculation that Trouble in Tahiti was about his parents' relationship or about the relationship with his wife Felicia Cohn Montealegre," explained Burdeny. “In the 80s, he wrote the opera 'A Quiet Place' where 'Trouble in Tahiti' is referred to-the whole opera appears as a flashback-and where time has passed. Dinah and Sam now have three grown children whereas in Trouble in Tahiti there is only one small child.”

And then there’s the music. Burdeny, whose diet of traditional opera in Italian and French is the norm, was up for the challenge of a twentieth century opera sung in English. “I wanted to delve into something outside of my comfort zone and also realize the world of the story more convincingly without translation”, Burdeny admits. “The rhythm is challenging but through rehearsal, we figured it out: Bernstein followed speech patterns. Once we read the text, the meter made sense.”

“Bernstein created something real to appeal to the audiences of the day. The Greek Chorus’ are almost jingle singers trying to sell you on the suburban dream,”  Burndey suggests. Underneath that glossy exterior, Bernstein puts the frustrated couple trapped in their roles, to create a juxtaposition of great depth and gorgeous music.

VANCOCO’s mandate is to create opportunity for local, Canadian and indeed, international singers by placing emerging professionals with seasoned pros and creating performances that are all about the music. “As a concert opera company we’re concentrating on the music providing an opportunity to learn how to express with our voice."

Trouble in Tahiti is at the Firehall Arts Centre, a Vancouver Fringe Festival BYOV at 280 Cordova Street and runs Friday, September 9 5:00pm*, Saturday, September 10 6:45pm, Sunday, September 11 9:30pm, Tuesday, September 13 7:15pm, Thursday, September 15 7:00pm, Friday, September 16 11:00pm **, Saturday, September 17 11:00pm, Sunday, September 18 7:15pm.

*half price show **food bank show

Tickets available online at www.vancouverfringe.com.

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