February 14, 2011

Peabody Chamber Opera remembers the ’50s at Theatre Project

Peabody Chamber Opera will present Remember the Fifties—a double bill of one-act operas about the decade of Eisenhower, Burma Shave and I Love Lucy—at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., from Feb. 24 to 27.

The two works are Lee Hoiby’s This Is the Rill Speaking of 1991 and Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti of 1952.

This Is the Rill Speaking, with a libretto by Mark Shulgasser, is based on the 1965 play of the same name by Hot l Baltimore author Lanford Wilson. A rill being a small ditch through which water flows, the opera, set in rural America, is a series of vignettes about a family of four: mother, father, teenage daughter and teenage son.

The musical and dramatic contrast with Trouble in Tahiti, which brings the audience into the unhappy lives of an affluent suburban couple, could not be greater. The opera was composed by Bernstein just a few years before West Side Story, and his Broadway style is immediately recognizable. The couple’s failure to communicate is portrayed in upbeat, often hilarious, music, including commentary by the “Tahiti trio,” the sort of Greek chorus one might find in a detergent commercial.

“The time period is a precursor to the period of Mad Men,” said Peabody faculty member Jennifer Blades, stage director for the production, who has twice played the female lead in Trouble in Tahiti in area productions. “Everything simmered in the ’50s, then exploded in the 1960s.”

Eight student singers will perform. Four of the six in This Is the Rill Speaking play multiple roles. Katelyn Jackman, a Master of Music candidate studying with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, appears in both shows, playing Mother and Allison in This Is the Rill Speaking and the female lead, Dinah, in Trouble in Tahiti. Sam, the male lead in Trouble in Tahiti, is played by Peter Tomaszewski, a Graduate Performance Diploma candidate studying with John Shirley-Quirk.

The other students in the cast are David Diehl, Joseph Harrell, Sonya Knussen, Marie Marquis, Stephanie Miller and Jorge Ramirez-Sanchez.

Two students in Peabody’s graduate conducting program will lead the pit orchestra. Lee Mills will conduct This Is the Rill Speaking and Blair Skinner, Trouble in Tahiti.

The singers and conductors were coached by Peabody Opera’s music director, JoAnn Kulesza.

Set designer Thom Bumblauskas has created montages of 1950s advertisements as backdrops. The lighting designer is Doug Nelson, resident lighting designer and production manager for Peabody Opera since 1985.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $25, $15 for seniors and $10 for students with ID. The audience is invited to meet the performers at a free reception sponsored by the Friends of Peabody after the Sunday performance.

To purchase tickets, go to www.missiontix.com or call Theatre Project at 410-752-8558.