From Two To One – Leonard Bernstein’s Operatic Magnus Opus (And It’s Not ‘Candide’)

By David Salazar

Leonard Bernstein celebrates his 99th birthday on this day August 25, and his influence in the world of music is just as strong today as it was throughout his incredible life.

One of the great conductors of all time, he was also a gifted composer that created a number of memorable works of art, including his famed “Candide.”

And while Bernstein’s operatic output is usually limited to that one work, it is worth noting that the maestro gave the world a few other operas. Here is a look at those works (or more like that one opera).

Trouble in Tahiti

Bernstein’s first opera was a one-act work in seven scenes that he dedicated to Marc Blitzstein, another American composer. Bernstein wrote the words and music for this work, its premiere coming on June 12, 1952, in front of 3,000 people.

Bernstein was very adamant of including American vernacular in the libretto to increase the authenticity. The work follows married couple Sam and Dinah as they struggle to communicate across one day and ultimately compromise for the sake of their marriage, not out of true happiness. The work is often seen as an open critique on American suburbia.

A Quiet Place

Bernstein’s second major opera was written by Stephen Wadsworth and is a sequel to “Trouble in Tahiti.” Conceived in one act as well, the opera is often showcased in a three-act form, which often includes “Trouble in Tahiti” as a flashback. An earlier version from 1983 has the two works as double bills. This was necessitated by the fact that the original version of “A Quiet Place” was panned and both Bernstein and Wadsworth decided to withdraw it and revise it to include the earlier work. Bernstein famously recorded the work himself.




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