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Trouble in Tahiti — Review

On Friday 6th April St Andrews Chamber Opera Group brought Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti to the Laidlaw Music Centre. Founded in September 2022, STACOG are pretty new to the St Andrews theatre scene, a fact that is certainly not discernible from the high standard of their production.

Ahead of the main event, the audience were treated to a vocal showcase of a selection of arias from different operas from throughout the ages. Before their piece each performer would give a short overview of the context of the song within the opera and what was taking place. Admittedly I know very little about opera and so appreciated being gently guided through each piece. I am now convinced that the Chamber Opera Group is home to some of the most raw musical talent in St Andrews. Each performance (to my inexperienced ear) was flawless and definitely piqued my interest for the Bernstein to follow. A particular highlight was the masterful duet by Bonnie White and Pavlina Ivanova of Mozart’s ‘Sull’ Aria’ from Le Nozze di Figaro, accompanied by Zach Brandman. 

Following a short interval, the somewhat sterile confines of the McPherson Recital Room were quickly transformed for Trouble in Tahiti, an opera about a failing marriage and the dynamic of love in the modern, consumerist world. I was impressed by the costumes by Valentine Salinger, which were eminently believable and definitely helped to transport me to post-war America, giving the production a professional feel. The calibre of the costumes was refreshing as it didn’t feel like the cast had been asked to bring in somewhat appropriate items from home as is often the case in low-budget student productions.

The opera begins with a vocal trio, played by Ben Hayes, Dylan Swain and Emily Speed. In their roles as ‘boy’, ‘boy’, and ‘girl’, they present an idealised version of life in 1950s suburbia, sometimes portraying a picture-perfect family, and other times adopting other small parts throughout and providing comedic relief. They simultaneously function as a Greek chorus, providing satirical commentary on the action of the play. All three members of the trio must be commended for their genuinely funny performances which had the audience laughing throughout. Occasionally, the voices of the trio were lost in the orchestra’s accompaniment, however, I think that was largely due to the nature of the acoustics in the room.

The central focus of the opera is the failing marriage of Sam, played by Brannon Liston-Smith, and Dinah, played by Catriona Kadirkamanathan. Liston-Smith perfectly embodied the role of a disgruntled, morally questionable middle-aged man. Kadirkamanathan made Dinah’s boredness palpable and her outstanding vocal performance throughout was a definite highlight. 

Tender, slick, and a masterclass on how to effectively manipulate your performance space, Trouble in Tahiti was a polished production.

This was my first time attending a STACOG production. For those of you who have written off opera as something that just isn’t for you, I would encourage you to attend future performances by STACOG as I’m pretty certain they will change your mind.

Graphic by St Andrews Chamber Opera Group

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