Trouble In Tahiti Plus Two Shorts

From May 17 to 19 at Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre at Peter Norton Symphony Space, Underworld Productions Opera (UPO) will present “TROUBLEfuturesongs,” an evening of Leonard Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” plus the staged premieres of two shorts: “Voice for a Future Nightingale” by Justine F. Chen and “Outerborough Songs” by Thomas Deneuville. The evening explores desire, denial and domestication in the context of these three short operas, each of which has a couple at its center. The evening is conceived and directed by Gina Crusco and will be conducted by Mark Shapiro.

Stephanie McGuire and Isaac Grier play Dinah and Sam in Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti May 17 and 19. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

“Trouble in Tahiti,” written between Bernstein’s Broadway successes with “On the Town” and “West Side Story,” focuses on Sam and Dinah, an unhappy suburban couple who are alienated from each other. Beneath their misery is a deep longing for love and intimacy.

After a day of avoiding each other and arguing, they dress to go together to a movie named “Trouble in Tahiti,” escaping for yet another evening the pain of their marriage. Throughout the 45-minute opera, a Trio provides satirical commentary, using close harmonies and jazz rhythms to evoke commercials of the period and spotlight the materialism, numbness and complacency of postwar suburban life.

The UPO production will feature some bold casting choices. On May 17 and 19, Sam and Dinah will be portrayed by a black couple, mezzo-soprano Stephanie McGuire and bass-baritone Isaac Grier.

On May 18, the role of Dinah, usually a mezzo role, will be sung by coloratura soprano Kelli Butler while baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco will sing the role of Sam. Throughout the run, the Trio will be sung by Michelle Seipel, Miran Robarts and Luis Gonzalez. The work will be presented in the Garth Sunderland orchestral reduction.

Kelli Butler and Mario DiazMoresco play Dinah and Sam in Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti May 18. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

In “Voice for a Future Nightingale,” composer Justine F. Chen and librettist Ken Gass adapt “The Rape of Philomena by Tereus” from Ovid’s “Metamorphosis.” In this 10-minute work, newly scored by the composer for piano, flute and cello, the eternal theme of woman as a voiceless victim is expressed, as well as the justice of a woman’s revenge. We see the breakdown of trust between Procne and her husband Tereus. In gentle but relentless musical figuration, the action comes to a surprisingly modern, enigmatic conclusion. The role of Philomel will be created by mezzo-soprano Stephanie McGuire.

“Outerborough Songs” by is a 10-minute compilation of three short songs, based on poetry by D. Nurkse, for soprano and electric guitar. In them, a couple grapples with each other and with the great city, revealing moments of passion, both in hot arguments and the oblivion of forgiveness. On May 17 and 19, the work will be sung by Gian-Carla Tisera. On May 18, it will feature Michelle Seipel. Guitarist is Marco Marino.

The evening is designed by Michael Minahan (set), Kia Rogers (lighting) and Edgar Cortes (costumes).

Gina Crusco’s productions are noted for her dramaturgical ingenuity. Her “Cosi Fan Tutte: Defining Women” (Symphony Space, 2009) had the audience vote with their cell phones to decide the ending of the opera. In “Pygmalion: My Unfair Lady,” her adaptation of Rameau’s “Pygmalion” (Symphony Space, 2010), she combined the roles of Cephise and the Statue so that the rejected Cephise could actually get her man.

Stephanie McGuire as Philomel in Voice for a Future Nightingale by Justine Chen. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Allan Kozinn wrote in The New York Times, “The Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble is intent on finding interesting ways to present opera on a microscopic budget while also making a social point or two about the war of the sexes that animates so many plots.”

In 2012, Crusco directed “Don Pasquale & His Trophy Wife,” an intrepid adaptation of Donizetti’s classic, at Abigail Adams Smith Auditorium and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo. Critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, writing in The Classical Review, cheered it as “a witty production that combined a gently tweaked storyline with an intimate setting that gave audience members a rare chance to experience opera up close.”

Last May, the company performed a madcap NY premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Il Trionfo dell’Onore” at Symphony Space and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo. James R. Oestreich (NY Times) wrote that he relished the singers of the “irreverent comedy” and the “madcap confusion,” which was “wholly in keeping with the work’s studied silliness.”

Conductor Mark Shapiro is a four-time winner of the prestigious ASCAP Programming Award. His work has been praised by The New York Times for its “virtuosity and assurance” and “uncommon polish.” Shapiro is Music Director of The Cecilia Chorus of New York and Artistic Director of Cantori New York. In recent seasons he conducted Poulenc’s comic opera “Les mamelles de Tiresias” at the Juilliard School, Bizet’s “Les pecheurs de perles,” Rossini’s “Barbiere di Siviglia” with the Opera Company of Middlebury (VT), and the staged premiere of Ben Yarmolinsky’s opera “Clarence and Anita” with UPO. He has also conducted for American Opera Projects and the Center for Contemporary Opera.

As an orchestral conductor, Shapiro led the Bridgeport Symphony in a concert featuring Metropolitan Opera soprano Harolyn Blackwell. He is a principal guest conductor of the chamber orchestra Nova Sinfonia in Halifax; Assistant Professor of Music at LIU Post; a long-time member of the conducting faculty of Mannes College the New School for Music and Director of the Conducting Program at the European American Musical Alliance in Paris.

GianCarla Tisera in Outerborough Songs by Thomas Deneuville. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Thomas Deneuville, composer of “Outerborough Songs,” is the 2013 winner of the Nouveau Classical Project Visionary Award for his impact on the new music community and the ASCAP Foundation Deems Taylor award. He was born in Provence, raised in Tahiti, and educated in Paris, Milan and New York. He has worked, studied and lived in the US for about seven years and now makes his home in NYC.

Mr. Deneuville studied composition with Shafer Mahoney, Eric Tanguy and Tristan Murail; voice with Franco Corelli; and piano with Geoffrey Burleson. He has experimented with Irish traditional music, rock, and carnatic music, and now composes contemporary classical music. His works have been performed at Music with a View Festival, CUNY New Music Festival, and Cornelia Street Cafe, among others. His music is published by Alberti Publishing.

Justine F. Chen, composer of “Voice for a Future Nightingale,” has been commissioned and performed by New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, The Juilliard School, New York Festival of Song, Washington Ballet, Long Leaf Opera, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

Her projects include a full-length opera with librettist David Simpatico on the subject of Alan Turing, commissioned by American Lyric Theater. Her first operatic work, computer-enhanced chamber opera “The Maiden Tower,” was initially presented at Juilliard and was featured in New York City Opera’s VOX 2006: Showcasing American Composers. It had its international premiere in Montreal with Chants Libres in December 2008. Her “Jeanne,” a lyrical, atmospheric adaptation of Joan of Arc, was featured in NY City Opera’s VOX 2008. She draws inspiration from animation, film, theater, classical Indian dance and music, and contemporary dance.

Stephanie McGuire, lyric mezzo-soprano (Dinah May 17, 19; Philomel), has performed with New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, with the Metropolitan Opera Guild, with the Boston POPS Orchestra at Symphony Hall, and at Carnegie Hall. She created the trouser role of Erminio in the New York premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Il Trionfo dell’Onore” with Underworld Productions Opera, a performance called “effectively ardent” by Opera Today and “notable” by The New York Times. Her one-woman show, “Mezzo Laid Bare,” was supported by LPAC’s LAB program and an individual artist grant from the Queens Council on the Arts.

Isaac Grier, bass-baritone (Sam May 17, 19), a native of Flint, Michigan, has been called “a singer to watch for” (Superconductor). He returns to Underworld Productions Opera this season, having sung the role of Clarence Thomas in “Clarence & Anita” by Ben Yarmolinsky. He has made his career performing with Opera North (New Hampshire), New Orleans Opera, North Shore Music Festival (Long Island), and with New York companies like Martina Arroyo Foundation, dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, Regina Opera, Amore Opera, Chelsea Opera and New York Grand Opera.

Kelli Butler dreams of Dinah’s garden in Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Kelli Butler, coloratura soprano (Dinah May 18), has won prizes in the Jenny Lind, Connecticut Opera Guild, and Altamura/Caruso International competitions. She created the role of Riccardo in the New York premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Il Trionfo dell’Onore” with Underworld Productions Opera. She has performed roles such as Musetta (“La Boheme”), Cunegonde (“Candide”), Sophie (“Der Rosenkavalier”), Zerlina (“Don Giovanni”), Gilda (“Rigoletto”), Juliette (“Romeo et Juliette”) and Adele (“Die Fledermaus”).

Mario Diaz-Moresco, baritone, (Sam May 18) has been praised as a singer whose “comic flair is as attractive as his resonant baritone” (The Daily Camera). Credits include the St. Petersburg Opera Company, the Bronx Opera, Central City Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. Notable roles include Jack Absolute in “The Rivals,” Schaunard in “La Boheme,” Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” Sid in “Albert Herring” and Papageno in “Die Zauberflote.” An active recitalist, he frequently performs the works of Schumann, Vaughan Williams, Poulenc, Beethoven, Bolcom and Musto.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. This program is also made possible in part with public funds from the Fund for Creative Communities, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Additional funding has been provided by Deutsche Bank, Venable Foundation and Puffin Foundation. Trouble in Tahiti is performed by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., Sole Agent for Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, publisher and copyright owner.

Underworld Productions Opera will present “TROUBLEfuturesongs” at Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre, 95th Street and Broadway, May 17 – May 19, 2014, Saturday May 17 at 8:00 PM, Sunday May 18 at 2:00 PM and Monday May 19 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $45 gen. Adm. and $40 in advance for seniors and students and can be purchased at or by calling 212-864-5400.