Pacific Opera Mission, Leonard Bernstein and a pandemic first

Pacific Opera Mission’s manufacturing of Leonard Bernstein’s “Bother in Tahiti” final weekend was stuffed with firsts. It was the primary opera manufacturing — certainly, the primary main musical or theatrical occasion — in Los Angeles Nation introduced for a stay viewers in practically 14 months (that’s, in case you don’t depend drive-in occasions).

I attended the Sunday matinee, the third of 4 performances on the garden at Heritage Sq. Museum. It was certainly the primary time an opera singer started her star-making aria by exclaiming “What a horrible, terrible film!” with wondrously convincing theatrical aptitude simply as Hollywood’s glitterati, a mere 5 miles and three Gold Line stops away at Union Station, have been exclaiming what fantastic films have been receiving Oscars. Perky nomad opera versus “Nomadland.”

It was probably the primary time a married couple had portrayed the bickering married couple in Bernstein’s bitter, 50-minute chamber opera concerning the non secular vacancy of suburban life within the Fifties.

It was with none query the primary time “Tahiti” has been carried out alongside the Arroyo Seco Parkway, America’s first freeway, paving the best way to the suburban utopia that Bernstein warned us in opposition to. It simply so occurs that the Pasadena Freeway, because it’s higher recognized, was accomplished in 1953, a yr after the opera’s premiere.

However possibly extra necessary than any of this was the truth that “Tahiti” was POP’s first manufacturing 10 years in the past, mounted on a shoestring by feisty operatic rookies. That “Tahiti,” which will be discovered on YouTube, is, for all its youthful let’s-put-on-a-show allure, all however unwatchable.

The “Tahiti” on Sunday was mature, deeply affecting, solidly skilled opera — with trademark POP touches of goofy humor. Surprisingly, the affecting half had nothing to do with the feelings of being again in an actual viewers. As an alternative, the marvel of POP’s “Tahiti” was its capability to beat pandemic obstacles to staging stay efficiency with an actual viewers.

So what was it like to observe an opera open air with a pal and 148 distanced others? POP’s stage, with its pleasant Pop-art-ish little white home, was arrange alongside the freeway; the museum’s splendid historic homes have been behind the viewers. Freeway noise was the aural background. Amplification, with stage microphones somewhat than lavalier mikes on the singers, wasn’t fairly as much as the job of coping with that.

It was chilly and windy. Reasonably than an orchestra, there was electrical keyboard, bass and percussion. Sure, it was fantastic to be again, however the lack of intimacy on all ranges just isn’t precisely being again, particularly in opera. But POP pulled it off.

Pods of viewers members watch Pacific Opera Mission’s manufacturing of Leonard Bernstein’s “Bother in Tahiti” at Heritage Sq. Museum.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Instances)

“Bother in Tahiti” is Bernstein’s most misunderstood main work. Though it’s not often handled as such, the “little opry,” as Bernstein referred to as it, is the important center of his tryptic concerning the that means of life. The primary is his 1949 Second Symphony, “The Age of Anxiousness,” which takes its inspiration from W.H. Auden’s poem about alienation in post-World Warfare II American society. “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)” from 1954, Bernstein’s coming to phrases with “love’s powers, charms, and performance,” to say nothing of its terrors and mysteries, is the third.

In all three there’s a seek for the transcendence of religion, arrived at cinematically within the symphony, wistfully in “Tahiti” and by throwing warning to the wind in “Serenade.” “Tahiti,” particularly, haunted Bernstein, particularly in its seemingly futile, legendary seek for “a quiet place.” Three years later, Bernstein wrote “A Quiet Place,” a full-length operatic sequel to “Tahiti,” his personal home life having gone by infinite travails, the seek for that means ever extra compelling.

All the things about “Tahiti” is peculiar. It’s partly based mostly on his mother and father and was partly written on Bernstein’s honeymoon. Sam (Bernstein’s father’s identify) is an aggressive, impatient businessman. He’s inappropriate together with his secretary and exhibits off on the fitness center. Dinah is his long-suffering spouse. They stay in Scarsdale, or another place lower than an hour from the town. A trio of scat singers acts as a Greek refrain, its observations mockingly rosy.

The anger and alienation in “Tahiti” will be downright off-putting, be it Sam’s meanness at breakfast (he’s ever the dissatisfied instigator) or Dinah’s depressive disaffection. They marvel what went fallacious, however they hardly appear to imply it.

The outstanding side about POP stars Megan and Andrew Potter is that they very a lot imply it. She has a wealthy mezzo-soprano that may covey the sound of ache absorbed. He’s a soulful bass, the sound of energy that has a thoughts of its personal. Neither has a chew in his or her accents. Their physique language suggests insecurity greater than animosity. Each internalize anger.

Sam lets it out in his manly, whoop-de-doo fitness center aria that Andrew Potter made extra playful, even a contact remorseful, than show-offy. Dinah’s showstopper, the aria “Bother in Tahiti,” is her vivid description of a horrible film that skewers American colonialism and Hollywood.

Megan Potter introduced sufficient theatrical verve to be profitable however daringly extra subdued than normal, so overpowering is her quest for a quiet place.

The supporting trio included veterans Robert Norman and Ryan Reithmeier, each of whom have been within the unique POP manufacturing, together with Eleen Hsu-Wentlandt, additionally a longtime POPster. What a distinction a decade makes. Not simply an outsider Greek refrain, the trio has turned the populace.

That Josh Shaw, the inventive director and face of POP, has refined the manufacturing over time is to be anticipated, however that he did this with élan on the fly just isn’t. It has been only some weeks for the reason that county gave approval for stay efficiency.

But the corporate proved, on this unfamiliar house, nimble as ever. It even managed frequent costume adjustments, exhibiting off Maggie Inexperienced’s witty Fifties designs. Acoustically the instrumental trio led by pianist and music director Kyle Naig remained within the supportive background.

As for Shaw, he has no want for a quiet place. The pandemic has different priorities, specifically immediacy. He informed the viewers that POP will likely be again at Heritage Sq. the primary weekend in June. He’s nonetheless deciding on the opera. It doesn’t matter. On this unusual time and unusual place and unusual method, the pandemic has made POP matter in a telling new method.

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