Leonard Bernstein: A Quiet Place staged in Paris
A Quiet Place, Leonard Bernstein’s final stagework, receives its first French staging in March, presented by the Opéra National de Paris and directed by Krzysztof Warlikowski. Garth Edwin Sunderland introduces the version of the opera to be conducted in Paris by Kent Nagano.
Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place, his last stagework, created with librettist Stephen Wadsworth and premiered in 1983, receives its French premiere on 9 March at the Palais Garnier in Paris. The new Opéra National de Paris production by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski employs the 2013 adaptation by Garth Edwin Sunderland in a new expanded orchestration conducted by Kent Nagano, who has led performances of this adaptation in Germany and Canada and recorded the work for Decca.
The opera examines a psychologically fragile American family, trapped in its painful memories as it gathers after the death of a loved one, trying to recapture shared moments of intimacy and reaching for the hope of reconciliation. The cast in Paris includes Russell Braun as the recently bereaved Sam, Patricia Petibon and Gordon Bintner as his estranged adult children Dede and Junior, and Frédéric Antoun as François, Dede’s husband and Junior’s lover. The run of 11 performances opens at the Palais Garnier on 9 March and is preceded by a preview performance on 7 March for audiences under the age of 28. A Quiet Place will be broadcast by France Musique in the Samedi à l'Opéra series.
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Garth Edwin Sunderland, whose adaptation of the libretto and orchestration is performed in Paris, describes how “A Quiet Place was Leonard Bernstein’s final work for the stage. The story of a fractured family struggling to come to grips with its past, the opera was conceived with librettist Stephen Wadsworth as a sequel to Bernstein’s jazzy 1952 one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti. At its premiere at Houston Grand Opera, in 1983, A Quiet Place was presented, on a double bill with Trouble in Tahiti, as a single 110-minute act in four scenes, using a very large orchestra, including synthesizer and electric guitar.
“The Authors were dissatisfied with this first version, and the opera was revised, becoming a full-length, three act opera. The dramatic structure of the work was significantly altered, and a substantial amount of A Quiet Place material was cut to accommodate the entirety of Trouble in Tahiti, now incorporated into the later opera as an extended flashback. This version was finalized for performances at the Vienna Staatsoper in 1986, and Bernstein subsequently recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon. Nevertheless, Bernstein continued to consider further possibilities for the work, at one point even proposing to bring the opera to Broadway, with a much smaller orchestra.
“Although the 1986 version is definitive, The Leonard Bernstein Office had long felt that a version of A Quiet Place standing alone, without Trouble in Tahiti, could allow for a more intimate experience of this deeply personal work. For the 2013 chamber adaptation, I returned to the original impulse; revisiting the lean, modern concept behind the Houston version, and incorporating the improvements that Bernstein and Wadsworth made for Vienna, while restoring both the music and the characterization that were lost in the process of that revision. This adaptation found immediate success, with repeat performances by Ensemble Modern under Kent Nagano, a Decca recording with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and multiple productions in the US and Europe over the following eight years.
“The plan for the Opéra National de Paris to present A Quiet Place in its 2021/22 season led to the decision to create an expanded orchestration of the adaptation; one that would be scaled appropriately for a large opera house, but maintain the leaner textures of the reduction – a happy medium between the 18-piece 2013 orchestration and the 72-piece 1986 orchestration.
“A Quiet Place is unlike anything else in Bernstein’s catalogue, and really, unlike anything else in opera. It contains some of Bernstein’s very finest work (the Postlude to Act I may be the most powerful music he ever wrote), and tackles challenging subjects in a way that is both radical and true, and utterly compelling. Like other works of Bernstein’s later period, it was not appreciated at the time of its premiere for the daring, provocative vision he brought to us, but now we have caught up to him. The opera is finally becoming recognized as the culmination of Bernstein’s many gifts as a composer, a theater artist, and a communicator. Creating this adaptation was a deeply powerful experience for me, and it is my hope that it will provide audiences with a similar experience of this great American opera.”
This edited extract from a longer essay appears with permission from the author and The Leonard Bernstein Office.
> Further information on Work: A Quiet Place - 2013 Adaptation (Full Orchestra Version)
Photo: © Alfred Eisenstaedt