Scott Edmiston spending his summer vacation making trouble ... in 'Tahiti'

Revival of Leonard Bernstein's Brandeis-premiered opera will be at Tsai Center for three performances

Stars Stephen Salters and Sandra Piques Eddy with director Scott Edmiston

Brandeis history comes to life next week when Scott Edmiston, director of the Office of the Arts, directs the Boston Midsummer Opera production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti.” The one-act opera premiered on the Brandeis campus at the first Festival of the Creative Arts in 1952. That festival is now produced by Edmiston’s office. 

“We are so proud of Bernstein’s legacy to the arts at Brandeis,” Edmiston said, “and I’m personally thrilled to have this opportunity to experience this work artistically.”

“Trouble in Tahiti.”depicts the longing lurking beneath the surface of a perfect 1950s American marriage. In this first foray into opera, Bernstein explored the secret emotions and unrealized expectations hiding behind the picture-perfect family lives of post-war suburbia. He focused on a day in the life of one married couple, Sam and Dinah, to be played in the new production by the internationally acclaimed opera stars Stephen Salters and Sandra Piques Eddy.  

“Because of the title, I find that most people assume that ‘Trouble in Tahiti’is a piece of exotica,” says Edmiston. “In fact, it is a quintessentially American creation written by the quintessential American composer. The Tahiti of the title is an ideal – paradise, Eden, the garden – that we all long for, represented here by an artificial facsimile known as suburbia.”

Bernstein sought to break new ground by creating "a truly American opera." He wrote his own libretto and deliberately avoided anything overtly "operatic." Bernstein began “Trouble in Tahiti” while on honeymoon in Mexico and barely finished it in time for its first performance at Brandeis. Film of the premiere can be viewed on the creative arts festival website. Bernstein was a member of the Department of Music faculty until 1956 and later served as a University Fellow from 1958-76 and on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976-81. He was a Trustee Emeritus until his death in 1990. In 2005, the Festival of the Creative Arts was renamed in his honor.

According to Edmiston: “Like Bernstein’s talent and career, ‘Trouble in Tahiti’ defies simple categorization. The work inhabits a unique realm somewhere between traditional opera and musical theatre. The libretto reads like dialogue from a play, and it even has a ‘Greek chorus’ in the form of a narrative trio. The work almost feels like a short story, interested less in plot than the intimate revelation of character during life’s everyday moments. It is now understood that the American Dream as it was envisioned in the 1950s could also be oppressive. Few had the courage to speak the truth about it as Bernstein did.  In its time, ‘Trouble in Tahiti’ was a bold and pioneering work in theme as well as form.”

Edmiston has been called “one of Boston  finest directors…who has played a crucial part of the rise in local theater” (The Boston Globe). He has directed for theatre companies across the region including the American Repertory Theatre, Opera Boston, Lyric Stage Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and the Huntington Theatre. His direction of John Adams’ opera ‘Nixon in China’ was hailed as “musically deft and deeply touching” by The New York Times.

Trouble in Tahiti”will be performed at the Tsai Performance Center at Boston University for three performances only, on July 28, 30 and Aug. 1. The production features sets by Janie Howland, MFA’93, and costumes by Brandeis theater arts faculty Charles Schoonmaker. It will be conducted by Susan Davenny Wyner, and presented on a double bill with “Bon Appétit!” Lee Hoiby's musicalization of a Julia Child television broadcast featuring Broadway star Judy Kaye as Child. For more information, visit Boston Midsummer Opera's website


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