Oberlin Opera Theater’s Retro Revue Honors the Legendary Leonard Bernstein

October 8, 2018

Erich Burnett

clip art providing salutation to Leonard Bernstein
Photo credit: Nicole Slatinsky

Four performances showcase Trouble in Tahiti plus tunes from his Broadway musical masterpieces.

It could be said that the world’s centennial celebration of Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) is a celebration of America itself. So much of what the musical master created throughout his remarkable 50-year career was woven with the thread that bound the nation together.

“Of all the American composers, he’s the one that everybody liked,” says Jonathon Field, director of Oberlin Opera Theater’s A Salute to Leonard Bernstein, which takes the stage—and the orchestra pit—of Hall Auditorium from November 7 through 11.

person writing on manuscript
Bernstein began work on Trouble in Tahiti during his own honeymoon. (Photo courtesy Al Ravenna, World Telegram staff photographer/Library of Congress)

“He really managed to pull so many things together, with his appearances on TV and his international conducting, and everybody loves his musical works, almost without exception. He was writing at a time when, as a composer, he could assimilate a lot of disparate elements of American society. His work has an energy and vitality that you didn’t get anywhere but in America.”

Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than in Trouble in Tahiti, Bernstein’s one-act opera about the elusive American dream, fueled by buoyant music inspired by jazz rhythms and pop harmonies of the 1950s, as well as commercial jingles from the era. At the center of the story, however, is a young couple in the throes of marital discord.

“We sort of extoll the good life to be had by all,” says Field, describing the profound irony that permeates Tahiti. “It was supposed to be a life of ease and style. I sort of grew up in that era, so I’m able to offer a bit of insight to the singers, so that they don’t think of it as a historical performance piece.”

Tahiti will be followed by a revue of beloved tunes from Bernstein’s Broadway smashes West Side Story, Candide, On the Town, and Wonderful Town—and no shortage of campy, retro references to 1950s advertising, television, B-movies, and more.

Oberlin Opera Theater’s A Salute to Leonard Bernstein is supported from the pit by the Oberlin Orchestra under the direction of conductor Raphael Jiménez and features choreography by dance faculty member Holly Handman-Lopez.

The production will be performed at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, November 7, 9, and 10; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 11.

Tickets are $10 ($8 for students), available by calling 800-371-0178, visiting the Hall Auditorium box office (67 N. Main St.) weekdays from noon to 5 p.m., or online at oberlin/edu.artsguide.

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