“Transforming traditional concepts of classical performance etiquette to bring a straightforward and authentic presence to the Chicago music scene” – this is the dream that Fringe Opera Company is chasing. In their second program ever, the newly founded company is performing Leonard Bernstein’s (1918 – 1990) Trouble in Tahiti. Each performance is preceded by 30 minutes of jazz standards performed by a jazz trio and members of the cast. The jazz music sets up a comfortable and casual environment, an atmosphere the Chopin Theater invites.
A small gem of opera, Bernstein composed the one-act opera in 1952. This lesser-known work of Bernstein’s is really a story about the plight of the American dream. We follow a married couple who have lost their way in suburban life. The director said it best, “They have their proclivities, like all of us, but they do want their ten-year-old marriage to succeed. No, they are not the problem: their surroundings are. The quest for a perfect suburban life has led them not to a quiet place, but to an empty place.”
What I love about Chicago Fringe Opera is their innovation and ability to own the space they’re in. They make fantastic use of space. Their economical staging makes for a lively 3-D environment. Instead of watching a stage on which two characters are disagreeing, we feel like we are, at times, on the stage and rapidly turning left and right to follow the action. It’s like being a child sitting at the dinner table and watching Mom & Dad fight from opposite ends.
The company avoids gimmicks, instead they invest in honest and raw performances. Female lead Julia Elise Hardin steals the show. Her heartfelt performance was full of frustration and emotion. The notable moment is her aria “There is a Garden,” the most famous song from the show. Playing the counterpart role of Sam, a business man, is baritone Aaron Wardell.
This is not an airbrushed show. These are raw performances by a young and daring company. This show is perfect for the new-comer to opera. Clocking in at about 45 minutes, this show has a wonderful mix of classic Bernstein melodies with somewhat more progressive sounds. The remaining performances are on March 19, 20 & 21 at 7:30pm at the Chopin Theater.
Tickets are available at www.chicagofringeopera.com.