Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) is gearing up its elaborate set design and seating for its production of “Trouble in Tahiti” and “Arias & Barcarolles” – two Leonard Bernstein works newly combined into one harmonious piece about marriage, dreams, and disillusionment.
The design will transform the the interior of the DCR’s Steriti Memorial Rink along Boston’s North End Waterfront into an El Morocco-inspired 1950s-style club where the story of Sam and Dinah will unfold for eight performances from May 11 through 20.
“Guests will go through a canopy onto the ice rink, which will transport them to the club,” said Anna Labykina, BLO production director. “It will have dim lighting with tables and chairs that will have different types of patterns of South Pacific Prints. In the middle of the space the stage will be shaped like a runway…and the band will be seated on stage, wearing white dinner jackets, just like in a nightclub.”
Created by local scenic designer Paul Tate DePoo II, the set includes a thrust stage jutting from a proscenium surrounded by intimate cabaret tables evocative of Manhattan’s popular nightclubs.
Additional tiered seating around the perimeter of the floor will make it so that no one sits more that 60 feet from the action. Individual lighting on floor tables and along tiered seating drink rails will provide a cozy, intimate experience.
The design’s green-and-gold color palette, spiked with tropical florals, plays out on the set and seating design. It will be topped by crystal chandeliers that hang above the action and the stage where a seven-piece band and four-hand piano will be located.
Projections set the scene and evoke the mid-century period in which “Tahiti” takes place.
A lounge space outside the seating area ensures patrons a leisurely place to enjoy beverages and snacks created for the occasion. The drinks won’t have ice that will clink and the food was picked as to not make sound during the show.
“BLO has been doing non-traditional spaces to stage operations for close to a decade,” said Labykina. Since 2008, BLO has been doing at least one show per season in a non-traditional venue. Earlier this year, BLO had “Burke & Hare” at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End.
“We have a lot of experience in transforming a non-traditional space,” said Labykina.
This time around Labykina said they were transforming a wide open ice rink that resembles a fish bowl into a night club, and yes, “the ice was turned off back in March.”
The transformation she said, takes a lot of people and multiple days of installing equipment including a electricity generator and an air conditioning unit.
Planning for the event began two years ago but, the designs and plans didn’t get finalized until February of this year. The entire set up will take about three weeks to set up, and after the eight performances, it will all be taken down in one day.
“Trouble in Tahiti’s” story arc introduces married couple Sam and Dinah, living what they expected would be a life of charmed suburban perfection in the 1950s. But, in reality they are terribly unhappy, arguing over meals and avoiding time together.
The two leads are supported by a trio of onstage singers whom Bernstein referred to as “a Greek chorus, born of a radio commercial.”
“Arias and Barcarolles” is a song cycle that jumps stylistically – from twelve-tone scale, to jazzy scat, to pop, to klezmer – over its 30 minute duration. The piece was written almost exclusively by Bernstein, and reportedly took over several decades to finish.
The piece reflects the composer’s more mature take on relationships. The characters move through aspects of a couple’s life, from the first blush of love to complications to marriage and raising a family.
“Tahiti” will be played first followed by “Arias”, suggesting a continuation of the story. “Tahiti/Arias” features Heather Johnson and Marcus Deloach as Sam and Dinah. Mara Bonde, Neal Ferreira and Vincent Turregano sing “Tahiti’s” ‘Greek Chorus’ and other parts within the “Arias arrangements.
David Angus conducts, with Paul Tate dePoo III and Jeff Adelberg making their BLO debuts as scenic and lighting designers, respectively. Nancy Leary returns to design costumes and Melinda Sullivan will direct movement.
Although it is a lot of fun to put on pieces on non-traditional spaces, Labykina said it takes a large amount of money, work and effort to do so. The BLO hasn’t had a permanent home since they had their last performance at the Shubert Theatre in April 2016.
“We as a company would appreciate a permanent home in a more traditional environment to return to,” said Labykina. “We will still love to venture out once or twice a year in locations to share those unique experiences but, we would like to have a place we can go back to.”
For tickets and full list of performances visit www.blo.org.