What probably started as great ideas for a Trouble in Tahiti film ultimately flopped, as the criss-cross of scene design, snippets of 50s stereotypes, flashes of era paraphernalia, some wild playing with colors, choreography, and, lastly, opera turned into an aggregated hodgepodge.
The problems start at the beginning, when processing a bombardment of short video clips of 50s lifestyle and then quickly switching over to the inside of the little white house where the transition to singing is made clumsily, and the realization that the two main characters are singing never leaves you throughout the opera, which is a fatal flaw.
Many of the scenes are clumsy or not well-thought out. Cliché gestures are at a minimum, and each movement must have been well thought out, but the visual component does not lend to forward movement or suspense. It's just panning and zooming. Most duets are sung with one person on the screen and another off, which is frustrating as you'd like to see both.
A quick review of the scenes.
House scene is fair to poor, though the brief clip of the boy watching TV and hearing his parents argue worked well.
Office scene is one of the better ones: well choreographed, good interaction between Sam and the trio.
Psych's office is poor, with no action or any connection to the story Dinah is singing, and a couple confusing interruptions, one somehow vaguely related to the story, and the other a dizzy confrontation between Sam and the secretary, which leaves one more confused about whom Dinah is singing. I thought I had understood this scene after enjoying recordings of this opera and performing as Sam in an amateur production once, but now I was confused again.
Diner scene is poor. Why did they cut half the duet? Why? Why? Why? So much for climax. Just as I thought the scene was going somewhere, BOOM!, you're back with the trio again. A very unpleasant interruption.
The gym scene is likely the best. Well choreographed dancers with engaging actions, creative casting and gestures, and visual connection with the scene and Sam. However, I really didn't want to see all those butts in the shower. Maybe that's the reason this DVD is unrated...
The movie scene is the poorest. Dinah marches out of the movie theater at the beginning, which could have had potential for her to go shopping or hit the town like is written in the music score, but no: she spends the rest of the time singing drunk in her house. Terrible disconnect between action and music/storyline.
The final scene was going well, good connection between acting, scenery, storyline, and music, until both of them stopped lip-synching and the singing continued. Reminded, once again, of the fatal opera flaw: yes, they are singing.
Trouble in Tahiti was worth one watch, but will not be a DVD I return to. The CDs and my imagination will suffice just fine.
There are also two short talks about Bernstein, which are informative, and are good reminders about how great this small little opera really is.
If you're new to Trouble in Tahiti, get a CD version first, and if you like it well enough, you might consider buying this DVD.
So, now we await for a definitive production of this short opera. Perhaps next time it can be paired with another one-act American opera: Beeson's Hello Out There or William Schuman's A Question of Taste would both be good compliments, though both pale in comparison to Trouble in Tahiti's ingenuity. Or Theodore Chanler's Pot of Fat, which deals, in a lighter way, with trouble between husband and wife (cat and mouse).