Candide, West Side Story, Kaddish and more—we thought we knew Leonard Bernstein…
…Charming David Chase, both Conductor and pre-concert lecturer for Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein, disabused us of that notion quickly.
We had gathered to hear more about Bernstein before the performance began, to hear a pre-concert explication of the music that was to come. Before Chase arrived the grand opera hall filled with the sounds of 50’s commercial jingles and pop music. This was Bernstein’s world, Chase soon explained, and was a preface to hearing Bernstein’s little known Trouble in Tahiti.
Lyric Opera Goes Jazz
Bernstein, we learn, wrote this opera about a troubled marriage in suburbia during his honeymoon.
How unexpected that the notes in this grand opera hall were about to go full blown scat, but first singing of Highland Park, Ozone Park, Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, Wellesley Hills, Shaker Heights and more. The three Ryan Center performers—Diana Newman (soprano), Josh Lovell (tenor) and Emmett O’Hanlon (baritone)— were just a half step more formal than the commercial music that had filled the airwaves as preface to the lecture. More, as the opera continued, they were brought a physical humor to their performance as well.
The rock stars of this piece—and the whole evening!--were Susan Graham as Dinah and Nathan Gunn as Sam- the unhappy couple who long for each other but cannot re-connect. Graham, in perfectly detailed full skirt and full bust 50’s dress coupled with big blond flip, and Gunn, reminding us a bit too much of Trump’s swagger, act out the rigid gender roles of those times, interspersed with the jazz trio returning in various roles to re-inject pop jazz sounds.
All of the singing transported in the usual Lyric way—yet, this was --- different.
And much of the post intermission program continued to jog and expand our notions of what is Bernstein. Here though, Kate Baldwin, whom many Lyric regulars came to adore as Anna in The King and I, lent more of a Broadway sound to what followed. From I Hate Music, to a very funny rendition of Captain Hook’s Soliloquy by Nathan Gunn, to So Pretty (an anti-war song we learned Bernstein composed for Barbara Streisand) – there were several lesser known but not totally unknown songs (13 songs in Act II).
Chandeliers tastefully adorning the stage heights had a backdrop of changing hue lighting from rose to purple to red to blues and back (Lighting Design: Sarah Riffle).
Chase’s explanation of Bernstein’s signature sounds—the jump to high note leaps in his melodies, the unexpected changes in downbeats, and his fusion of pop, jazz and classical —were the even brighter colors of the evening.
Lyric has just announced their next season, including a one-night celebration of the people’s diva, Renee Fleming. For more information on both remaining Lyric performances this season and the one to come, visit the Lyric opera website.