Bernstein Double Bill (Opera North)
November 18 and 20 2021
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
A celebration of one of music’s most versatile, most unpredictable composers
Opera North’s Bernstein Double Bill celebrates one of the twentieth century’s most versatile and charismatic musicians. His Trouble in Tahiti is about the gap between the shiny dreams of 1950s American suburbia and the reality of dysfunctional lives lurking beneath all the gloss. The set makes the point brilliantly with giant blow-ups of adverts for new washing machines and labour-saving kitchens – whilst in front of them husband Sam argues with wife Dinah before he goes off to do dodgy deals at the office.
The opera’s title is that of a trashy escapist film, the anaesthetic which eases the pain. Quirijn de Lang was ideal as Sam both physically and vocally whilst Sandra Piques Eddy was able to dart from comedy to deep sadness with consummate ease. The crisply clear trio (Laura Kelly-McInroy, Joseph Shovelton and Nicholas Butterfield) pointed up the satire with style, gusto and razor-sharp timing. Anthony Hermus conducted; the orchestra sparkled.
In the second half’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story the orchestra did rather more than sparkle. The tunes may be well-known but Bernstein made serious demands on his players, something which Opera North’s musicians clearly relished: the energy of the Prologue in which the rival gangs fight for street turf; the tenderness of Somewhere, the dream ballet in which the lovers unite.
The dancers of Phoenix Dance Theatre caught all this energy and expressiveness, translating the music’s virtuosity into a multi-faceted physical spectacular, taking the original story and making it universal. The violence, the yearning for peaceful coexistence, the testosterone-fuelled High School dance, the tenderness: all familiar elements from West Side Story which fuelled this short, intense distillation.
In between the two Bernstein performances came a ten-minute interlude: Halfway and Beyond, billed as a ‘space for reflection at the centre point of the evening’, consisting of a poem written and read by Khadijah Ibrahiim expressed in dance. This vision of hope created an atmosphere of poignant beauty, even though most people watching would have struggled to hear the words when there was so much for their eyes to see.
Trouble in Tahiti
SAM Quirijn de Lang
DINAH Sandra Piques Eddy
TRIO Laura Kelly-McInroy
TRIO Joseph Shovelton
TRIO Nicholas Butterfield
CONDUCTOR Antony Hermus
DIRECTOR Matthew Eberhardt
SET DESIGNER Charles Edwards
COSTUME DESIGNER Hannah Clark
Halfway and Beyond
Words written and spoken by: Khadijah Ibrahiim
Phoenix Dance Theatre
With Isaac Sarsfield
Phoenix Dance Theatre
Halfway and Beyond/Symphonic Dances
Conductor Anthony Hermus
Director/Choreographer Dane Hurst
Set Designer Charles Edwards
Costume Designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita
Lighting Designer Kieron Johnson