There’s not much we haven’t seen at the Vancouver Fringe over the years. But we’re pretty sure Trouble in Tahiti is the first opera. Local gay singer Grant Wardlow says that with the Fringe already pushing the limits of theatre, it only makes sense to include a genre that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a fringe fest.
“As a group, our cast believes strongly that this is a perfect way to introduce opera to a more mainstream theatre audience,” said Wardlow. “So for anyone who might otherwise not want to commit to going to see a full length feature opera, this is a great opportunity to get a taste of what it is like.”
The fact that the opera is a single act, in English and with music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, also helps.
“Remember,” continued Wardlow, “this opera was written by the same guy who wrote West Side Story and On The Town. He knows his stuff. In fact, one of Bernstein’s goals was to make this opera as real as possible. He wanted everything about it to be believable so he went to great lengths to ensure that it was a story the audience could relate to and understand.”
In a series of seven scenes, Bernstein’s story follows Sam and Dinah, a young couple who appear to be living the perfect suburban dream in the 1950s.
“But once their day begins, there is a lot more to life for this couple than meets the eye,” said Wardlow. “In contrast, there is a Trio of characters who add some serious comic relief to the show as they promote the suburban lifestyle and find themselves in some rather precarious situations.”
Originally written to be set in a generic city and its suburbs the Vancouver Concert Opera Co-operative, producers of the show, have moved the location to one closer to home.
“In my opinion, Trouble in Tahiti is really Bernstein’s social commentary about life in suburbia,” said Wardlow. “In order to generalize on the topic, he set it in ‘any American city and its suburbs’. Given this, we decided to make it local and set the show in Vancouver.”
Wardlow, who plays one of the show’s Trio, was first introduced to Trouble in Tahiti a number of years ago as a member of the Victoria Conservatory Opera Studio.
“We sang the opening number as part of a concert featuring various opera arias, duets, trios and choruses,” he said. “I can still remember the first time I heard the score. I fell in love with it! So it is a real treat to be able to perform it in its entirety.”
A member of the shows Greek Chorus, Wardlow says the “Trio” he is part of with Katherine Landry and Paul Just help to provide comic relief in contrast to the lives of the two main characters.
“We sort of act as salespeople for suburbia, promoting it in a way that is not unlike a commercial from the 1950s or ’60s,” he said.
With its mandate to “offer unique operatic experiences to its audiences”, it’s no wonder the Vancouver Concert Opera Co-operative is at this year’s Vancouver Fringe.
Trouble in Tahiti
Part of the 2011 Vancouver International Fringe Festival
Firehall Arts Centre
A suburban opera for the 21st century. Join our hip Greek chorus as they observe a day in the life of Sam and Dinah, two Vancouverites who are desperately unhappy, lonely for love, and unable to communicate. Will they find a way to resolve their issues and live happily ever after?