Leonard Bernstein, Cape Town Opera, Matthew Wild, The Fugard Theatre, TROUBLE IN TAHITI
The opening of Leonard Bernstein's TROUBLE IN TAHITI in Cape Town this week was cause for great excitement and justifiably so. Bernstein's opera gets less of an airing both here and internationally than it should, although it forms a part of Bernstein's later and altogether less successful work, A QUIET PLACE, and the debut collaboration between Cape Town Opera and the Fugard Theatre is also a relationship that promises great potential.
TROUBLE IN TAHITI was written by Bernstein in 1951, ostensibly based on the relationship between the composer's mother and father. The piece deals with a day in the life of a typically American husband and wife who have lost the connection they once had. While the piece deals with one of the cornerstones of the American Dream, the piece naturally has resonance far beyond the borders of the United States, as it deals with a universal human issue that is as relevant now, in a time where the debate around what constitutes a marriage has become a major human rights issue, as it was six decades ago.
With TROUBLE IN TAHITI, Matthew Wild, who directed a thrilling production of SUOR ANGELICA for Cape Town Opera last season, continues to breathe fresh air into Cape Town Opera, a company that far too often settles for productions that feel derivative when they aim for the traditional or gauche when they aim to be contemporary. In a land where the conductor is king, Wild makes an effective case that while monarchies might be ruled by royalty, they are more effectively governed by prime ministers. His work here is deft and convincing.
That said, the musical demands of Bernstein's score, under the leadership of conductor Alexander Fokkens and musical director Ean Smit, are served exceptionally well, with the seven piece orchestra bringing the eclectic mix of musical styles to life tightly and effusively.
As Sam and Dinah, Thato Machona and Violina Anguelov individually make fine work of Bernstein's material. Machona comes to the fore in the scenes in his office and at the gym, where his rich baritone wraps himself around the music in an almost hypnotic fashion. He juxtaposes Sam's confident public charisma with his personal struggle to connect with his wife effectively.
Anguelov's haunting delivery of Dinah’s confession of her dreams to her analyst effectively balances her delivery of the "What a Movie!" aria later in the opera, where she mines the material for both humour and pathos. She portrays efficaciously the frustrations of a woman caught up by the romance of possibility, but trapped by her circumstances and, more tragically, by her own behaviour.
The pair is less compelling in the scenes where the characters interact with one another, where they needed to play the dynamics of the relationship more vividly. A sequence like the one where Sam and Dinah run into each other in the city and lie to avoid spending time together should imbue within the audience the poignant regret felt by the characters as they become aware of what they are doing. The lack of chemistry between Machona and Anguelov, made all the more noticeable by the intimacy of the venue, makes moments such as these less effective than they could be.
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Born and bred in South Africa, David has loved theatre since the day he set foot on stage in his preschool nativity play. He graduated with a Master of Arts (Theatre and Performance) degree from the University of Cape Town in 2005, having previously graduated from the same university with a First Class Honours in Drama in 2002. An ardent essayist, David won the Keswick Prize for Lucidity for his paper "Homosexual Representation in the Broadway Musical: the development of homosexual identities and relationships from PATIENCE to RENT". Currently, he teaches Dramatic Arts at a high school in Cape Town and also freelances as a theatremaker and performer. |