Michael Rosewell conductor | Stephen Unwin director | Nicky Shaw designer | Ralph Stokeld lighting designer

The Royal College of Music Opera Studio is taking audiences back to the booming fifties this summer with an evening of sparkling musical satire, led by esteemed theatre director Stephen Unwin. The cast presents a double bill of 20th century opera and a rare chance to hear Bernstein’s sardonic Trouble in Tahiti, paired with Berkeley’s delightful comedy of manners, A Dinner Engagement.

In the first performance of the evening, the RCM Opera Studio lifts the curtain on 1950s surburbia with Trouble in Tahiti. Get ready to peel back the sunny veneer of the American dream with Bernstein’s seven-scene sneak peek into the marriage of brash capitalist Sam and his frustrated housewife, Dinah. Bernstein provided both the music and libretto for his 1952 satire, penning much of his tale of marital misery while on his own honeymoon. From arias that plumb the depths of domestic woe to the infectiously cheerful Greek chorus and their swing-style songs of domestic bliss, this kitchen sink drama brings everything to the stage: big musical numbers, traditional opera and a little jazz.

Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement follows, providing a comedic lift to the evening with the disastrous dinner plans of its central bickering couple. Hard times have fallen upon Lord and Lady Dunmow, who are struggling to keep up appearances for some important dinner guests. The Grand Duchess is en route with her son, Prince Philippe – an eligible match for the Dunmows’ beautiful, albeit sulky, daughter Susan. Unfortunately, all attempts at self-catering quickly descend into culinary calamity. As smoke begins to billow from the ovens, settle in for a charming comedy of manners, cleverly told in a light-hearted libretto by Paul Dehn and set to Berkeley’s colourful score.

Both operas premiered within two years of each other, and together this coupling provides an insightful and satirical commentary on the domestic conventions of the 1950s.

Stephen Unwin is an experienced theatre and opera director and writer who has directed more than fifty plays and operas and written eight books on theatre and drama. Having held a residency at the National Theatre in the 1990s, Stephen has since traversed into the world of opera. His subsequent successes include Gianni Schicchi at the English National Opera and Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Royal Opera House.

This production is made possible with the assistance of the Basil Coleman Bequest.

As is traditional for RCM opera productions, two casts will alternate performances, giving as many accomplished young singers as possible the chance to take to the RCM’s Britten Theatre stage.


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