Trouble in Tahiti tells the story of Sam and Dinah, an unhappily married couple living, suffering, and raising a child in “Anywhere U.S.A.” The work is viewed by many as a reflection on the turbulent relationship of its composer and lyricist, Leonard Bernstein, with his own wife. Further, some view Sam and Dinah’s son (though never actually seen during the opera) as a young Bernstein absorbing years of familial dysfunction.
Tahiti is an opera in one-act, in English, that details one day of Sam and Dinah’s relationship. He is a self-absorbed confident man with tendencies to flirt with his secretary and put his family secondary to his handball tournaments. She is a depressed housewife trying to hold a relationship together that has been crumbling for years. Necessary humor is provided, however, with a tour-de-force aria for each character. Sam sings the pompous “There are men” with a machismo that reinforces his narcissism, and Dinah, who escapes daily to the cinema, details in “What a Movie!” her disappointment in the film and that her own life isn’t more cinematic.
NAU Lyric Theatre presented two back-to-back presentations of Tahiti on November 22, 2015 at Prochnow Auditorium; offering one version staged in the time of the composer, 1952, and another staged in present day. Not only is the libretto timely in a traditional presentation despite the sixty-plus years that have passed since its composition, but the story can be interpreted making the “Dinah of today” the stronger half of the pair. Sam becomes the over-committed family man whose anger is motivated only by Dinah’s over-achieving, tiger-mom attitude.