Tanglewood Brings Bernstein’s Seldom-Performed Opera “A Quiet Place” to a New Audience

Peter Kazaras, stage director of Tanglewood’s production of “A Quiet Place” by Leonard Bernstein.

Peter Kazaras has been involved with Leonard Bernstein’s seldom performed opera A Quiet Place since its world premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in 1983 when he sang the role of François. In the first few years after the premiere, he sang that role in several iterations of the piece, which he characterizes as one of the most universally misunderstood of Bernstein’s compositions. This week he is acting as Stage Director for the August 9 presentation at Tanglewood.

Presented then as a second half to Bernstein’s 1951 opera Trouble in Tahiti, the premiere in Houston was generally reviled in the press. “Bernstein wrote Trouble in Tahiti as a honeymoon present for his wife, Felicia Montealegre. When he wrote A Quiet Place thirty years later she had passed away, so the tone of the two works is very different, and the audience just wasn’t ready for it,” Kazaras explained. “The producers postponed the previously scheduled performances at La Scala and the Kennedy Center to retool. In the next version of A Quiet Place, Trouble in Tahiti was folded into Act II.”

Trouble In Tahiti introduces us to Sam and Dinah, a middle aged suburban couple with one child, a son, Junior. Sam works, Dinah is a stay-at-home mother in typical post-war mode. They are comfortably off but restless in their marriage, each seeking to find satisfaction in what should be the American Dream. But despite their troubles the opera ends on a hopeful note, with a reconciled couple headed off to an evening at the movies.

“But you are left wondering even then about their son, Junior,” Kazaras said. “Was he old enough to be left alone? Was there a babysitter? Why did no one attend his school play? There are questions left unanswered.”

Throughout its various versions A Quiet Place provides some answers as we meet the family again many decades later. Dinah has died, in fact the opera opens with her funeral, and Sam, Junior, a daughter Dede, and Dede’s husband François have gathered to mourn her sudden and unexpected passing. We learn that Sam and Dinah’s marriage never healed, that Junior fled the draft and moved to Canada, but also has demonstrated signs of mental instability. François (who was once Junior’s boyfriend) has married Dede so that they can both take care of the needy Junior.  In the end, he urges the family to finally come together and take care of each other. ‘We’re only who we are.’”

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A Quiet Place is complex, dense, and very moving. Those are the reasons I have always loved it and those are the reasons other people just hate it,” Kazaras explained. “It doesn’t deal with gods and goddesses or counts and countesses, it deals with a suburban family and the tragedy of the neglect of love. And it offers no easy answers.  It has a wonderful score, jazzy and lyrical, and some of the most beautiful musical motifs from Trouble in Tahiti reappear in A Quiet Place but with more vinegar and regret.”

“In order to try to give the piece a new lease on life, the Bernstein Office asked Garth Edwin Sunderland to make a shorter version of the original,” Kazaras said. “This new version will be performed without intermission and will run about 90 minutes.” It is now scored for a small chamber orchestra of about two dozen instruments, under the baton of Stefan Asbury.

“In order to make sense of this in Seiji Ozawa Hall we have our very talented young singers stage right and the musicians stage left so the conductor will have eye contact with the singers at all times,” Kazaras said. “We can’t create a huge physical show for just one night, so there will be no lugging of coffins on and off the stage, but we have created a beautiful production with minimal means.  My projection designer collaborator, Adam Larsen, has come up with some brilliant visual material that enhances rather than overwhelms the storytelling.  And the physical action of the singers will take place all over the stage. Most of them are close in age to the roles they are playing which is It really exciting.”

“A Quiet Place is well worth another look,” Kazaras concluded. “The libretto by Stephen Wadsworth is brilliant, full of dark comedy and deep emotional insight, and Bernstein’s music is gorgeous and exciting. I am thrilled this centennial celebration at Tanglewood is giving me a chance to work on the piece as a stage director and to bring it to a whole new audience.”

Stefan Asbury conducts the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra’s performance of Bernstein’s A Quiet Place at 8 pm on Thursday, August 9, in Seiji Ozawa Hall.

The cast for A Quiet Place includes Elaine Daiber (Dede), Daniel McGrew (Francois), TMC alumnus Dominik Belavy (Junior), TMC alumnus Ryne Cherry (Sam), Alex Longnecker (Analyst), Thomas West (Bill), Edward Vogel (Doc), Eric Carey (Funeral Director), Kelly Newberry (Mrs. Doc), Olivia Cosio (Susie), and Robin Steitz, Rebecca Printz, Chance Jonas-O’Toole, and William Socolof (Quartet of Mourners).

GATES OPEN AT 6:30PM

BOOK SIGNING WITH JAMIE BERNSTEIN

Meet Jamie Bernstein from 7:00pm – 7:45 pm on Thursday, August 9, when she will be signing copies of Famous Father Girl, A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein, at Ozawa Hall. Books may be purchased at the event.

For tickets and more information click HERE.

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