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Osud/Trouble in Tahiti review at Grand Theatre, Leeds – ‘a strong cast’

Opera North's Trouble in Tahiti at Grand Theatre, Leeds Opera North's Trouble in Tahiti at Grand Theatre, Leeds
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Opera North’s Little Greats season is unusual in that one can pick and choose from different pairings of six short operas in the festival, or book for just one. On this particular evening Janacek’s semi-autobiographical Osud (Destiny) is twinned with Bernstein’s wry little comedy, Trouble in Tahiti.

First on the bill, Osud is by far the tougher nut to crack. Already the composer of Jenufa – widely acknowledged as his first stage masterpiece – Janacek next turned to this piece inspired by a brief romantic involvement he experienced in a Czech spa town.

The result is a freewheeling fantasy in which the central character, the composer Zivny, stands in for Janacek himself, while the woman with whom he was infatuated turns up as Mila – a character who meets a bizarre death in the course of the opera due to an accident caused by her mentally unstable mother.

Unfortunately the result is problematic on both dramatic and musical levels, and it is not difficult to comprehend why the piece failed to reach the stage in Janacek’s lifetime, nor why it has enjoyed such limited success since its posthumous stage premiere in 1958.

Opera North nevertheless fields a strong cast, with John Graham-Hall focused as the troubled Zivny, Giselle Allen engaged as the unlucky Mila and the redoubtable Rosalind Plowright electrifying as her mother; but despite everyone’s best efforts, including those of Opera North’s excellent choral and orchestral forces under conductor Martin Andre, Annabel Arden’s production cannot salvage the piece.

Fortunately Matthew Eberhardt’s sparky staging of Bernstein’s witty, heart-breaking account of a failing marriage in 1950s American suburbia comes to the rescue. Dapper Quirijn de Lang offers a flawless portrayal of go-getting businessman Sam opposite the elegant Wallis Giunta, who offers immaculate lyricism as his frustrated homemaking wife, Dinah.

Conductor Tobias Ringborg leads a vital version of the jazz-inflected score, while Charles Edwards’ designs conjure up the period perfectly.

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Strongly performed, if tonally mixed, double bill of short operas from Opera North