Trouble in Tahiti

By Leonard Bernstein
Arcola Theatre, London
August 9-12.

Part of Grimeborn Opera Festival running until September 23
Director: Finn Lacey
Sam – Peter Norris
Dinah – Alexandra Meier
Trio – Izzi Blain, James Wells and Tim Burton
Running time: 45 minutes.


Opera typically is the medium for extraordinary emotion on a grand scale.

The great straddler of genres Bernstein makes it the vehicle to explore the depressing ordinariness of the countless millions who can’t find their way back to the extraordinary emotion they once felt.

Symptomatic of the complexity of his relationship with conventional marriage, Bernstein began composing his one-act portrait of empty coupledom while on his honeymoon.

The year was 1951 and the vapid consumerism and lies of suburban idylls remain valid.  The big difference today is that we turn more frequently to social media for comfort than to bad, escapist movies such as “Trouble in Tahiti”.

Grimeborn’s version of this unresolved tragedy of yearning makes perfect use of the minimalist space of Arcola’s Studio 1.

While Peter Norris and Alexandra Meier as Sam and Dinah snarl at each other across the red and white chequered cloth of the breakfast table, the trio are in the balcony above, singing their rhythmic, jazzy, upbeat chorus, as heartless, agile and mischievous as Shakespeare’s Puck.

For my money, Alexandra Meier’s Dinah gets the emotional sympathy, with her rich, dignified mezzo-soprano that in itself is a denial of Sam’s claim she talks too much.  Anything is too much when it needles the guilty conscience of a narcissistic alpha male.

Their duets are powerfully harmonious – ironically given they deliver them standing feet apart, bristling with anger.

The jarring notes are from the band – percussive and jangling as Sam is late for his commuter train.

The closest harmony is from the trio (Izzi Blain, James Wells and Tim Burton) who sing merrily on, relentless as consumerism, capitalism, and the tide of life itself, indifferent to individual human happiness or its absence.

Barbara Lewis © 2023.