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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quiet Please: City Opera Opens

The New York City Opera opens its 2010-2011 season tonight with the New York premiere of Leonard Bernstein's opera A Quiet Place.
Leonard Bernstein composing at his Connecticut studio.
 Photo by George S. Zimbel © 1968

It's hard to believe that this three-act work has never been performed onstage in New York City. A Quiet Place tells the story of a typical American family at a crisis point after the death of their matriarch. The opera was originally conceived as a sequel to Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, another opera dealing with the same family. In 1983, the two works were presented in sequence. But the newer opera bombed. Bernstein never wrote another work for the stage.

A Quiet Place was a collaboration between Bernstein and librettist Stephen Wadsworth, the acclaimed stage director who recently saved the Metropolitan Opera's production of Boris Godunov after its original director resigned. Here, the staging is done by Christopher Alden, whose stripped-down version of Don Giovanni was a highlight of the 2009 season.

Bernstein and Wadsworth set about revising the opera into three acts with two intermissions, moving the Tahiti music to the second act and making it a flashback, an "opera-within-an-opera." The revised, three-act version premiered at the Washington National Opera in 1984. The opera was recorded in Vienna, (with the composer conducting) but still failed to gain the popularity of West Side Story, On The Town or even Candide.

Hopefully, this City Opera production will earn Bernstein's final opera what it has always deserved, a (quiet) place in the repertory.

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