Trouble in Tahiti

Wesley Methodist Church Hall, 75 Taranaki Street, Wellington

10/02/2007 - 18/02/2007

NZ Fringe Festival 2007

Production Details

by Leonard Bernstein
directed by Ryan Hartigan


Is it Jazz? Is it Opera?

In Wellington for the first time in 30 years, Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, combines swinging tunes with soaring arias. Drawing elements from classical music, jazz and musical theatre into an irresistible 50-minute show, Trouble in Tahiti is bound to be a highlight of the Wellington Fringe Festival 2007, and a must-see for theatre and music lovers!

NIMBY Opera Company, formed by Barbara Paterson and John Parker, aims to supply the demand for performance and work opportunities for Wellington singers, directors, musicians, technicians and arts administrators, while entertaining Wellington audiences with thrilling and quirky new opera works performed by talented up-and-coming performers.

Barbara Paterson
Brendan Casey

Georgia Jamieson-Emms 
Rhys Hingston
Craig Beardsworth

Opera , Theatre , Music , Comedy ,

50 minutes, no interval

Aural and visual delight

Review by Pepe Becker 11th Feb 2007

Grand Opera this was not, but a grand night out this mini-opera performance most certainly proved to be. Trouble in Tahiti, the debut production of new-kid-on-the-block NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) Opera Company, is a poignantly comical slice of 1950s American life, presented by two main characters – a dissatisfied and disillusioned married couple – and an accompanying Trio of voices providing pithy and enlightening chorus commentary.

Flawless flow, scintillating singing, hearty humour, plaintive pathos, cool costumes, simple (but effective) staging, masterful musicianship – this production has it all.

From the moment the Trio (excellently sung by the perfectly-blended, pure, warm voices of Georgia Jamieson-Emms, Rhys Hingston and Craig Beardsworth) first sets the scene, to their closing notes of reflection, the whole cast has the audience captivated. Not only is all the singing strong, clear and colourful, but the acting is unflinchingly natural and believable – consistently drawing our sympathies for the characters, as they spiral into despair, grasp at a glimmer of hope, ponder their physical prowess, or descend back into anger and doubt; and the subtle nuances of expression (in voices, faces and bodies) induce much spontaneous laughter from the audience at times.

The two leads are well-cast, both vocally and in terms of their acting abilities. Barbara Paterson (also co-producer of the show, with John Parker) is a self-professed zwischenfach singer who has proven herself multi-talented indeed: she vocalises through Dinah’s gamut of emotions with ease and grace, angst and strength, and just the right amount of vulnerability. Her dream scene on the analyst’s couch is particularly touching, and the  tongue-in-cheek, mickey-taking portrayal of the “terrible-awful” movie-musical (that provides the title of the opera itself) is a real hoot.

Brendan Casey, as Dinah’s husband Sam, portrays the all-American success-driven office-man with an image complex, who tries to make things right but doesn’t really listen so consequently doesn’t really ‘get it’, with absolutely convincing aplomb. His shower scene is a tour-de-force – it’s worth going for that alone – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person amazed at his stamina and gusto, in managing to pack a few press-ups mid-song and still keep his towel on!

Leonard Bernstein’s score is an interesting mix of folk, jazz and Latin-American styles, resulting in a uniquely mid-20th Century American light-opera idiom. Originally written for a small orchestra of winds, strings and percussion, the keyboard realization is adeptly and sensitively executed by pianist and musical-director Catherine Norton.

The lyrics (also Bernstein’s) are extremely clever in places – for example, the overlaying of the words “screaming silence” and “silent screaming” in one of Sam and Dinah’s duets. The singers must all be complimented too, for their American accents – totally believable, never overdone.

I wondered how the company might cope with staging a truly secular-themed opera in a church, but I needn’t have worried: the performers make excellent use of the space. The raised sanctuary area forms an ideal platform for the main action, the steps down provide good opportunities for Broadway-style movements (especially well-utilized when the Trio move forward to highlight a particular point about some aspect of the drama), and the three moveable screens are a simple yet versatile way of creating different spaces. One might wish for a tad more bloom in the acoustic at times, but the venue provides good visibility and clarity of sound nonetheless.

There are many moments of magic in this action-packed, one-hour show – congratulations to director Ryan Hartigan and the whole team for providing a thoroughly professional and enjoyable evening’s entertainment – Wellington audiences are in for a treat with more in store from NIMBY in the future.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly recommend this aural and visual delight, on for four more nights (12th, 14th, 17th and 18th Feb) – not to mention the edible treats and opportunity to meet the artists after the performance. The formula is a “natural born winner”.


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