Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Trouble in Tahiti and Service Provider
Minnesota Opera
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's recent reviews of Beautiful - The Carole King Musical and Bear Grease

Charles H. Eaton and Zoie Reams in Trouble in Tahiti
Photo by Cory Weaver
Descending two stories down from the lobby to the subterranean performance space that is the Luminary Arts Center, I was uncertain how nourishing an feast of opera I would find. For the third program of its 2023-2024 season, the Minnesota Opera paired two one-act operas: Trouble in Tahiti, with music and libretto by Leonard Bernstein, and Service Provider, with music by Christopher Weis and Libretto by John de los Santos. Then I learned that the entire program would run a slim ninety minutes, including time carved out for an intermission between the two. How satisfying a banquet could I expect in so brief a time?

I need not have been concerned. From the time the first note sounded in Trouble in Tahiti until the last round of rousing applause for the outstanding cast and orchestra at the conclusion of Service Provider, I was rapt in the substance, sound and style of both pieces, and engrossed in conversation about the first, Trouble in Tahiti for the entirety of the intermission. I left Luminary Arts not only nourished but elated.

Trouble in Tahiti premiered in 1952, and a portion of its score draws on the be-bop jazz of the late 1940s for a Jazz Trio who function as a Greek chorus at the opera's opening and between scenes. Their opening vocalese establishes the setting, by which I mean not only the place–in fact, no specific place is named–but the tone of post-war suburbia with its promise of full gratification provided by material goods in charmed little white houses. The names of affluent suburbs such as Scarsdale, Shaker Heights, Beverly Hills, and Brookline are imbedded in those choruses. We could be in any one of those or a hundred other like towns. Bernstein himself came of age in the upscale Boston suburb of Newton, and clearly found such communities an easy target for satiric criticism.

The scenes bracketed by the chorus are the real story of Trouble in Tahiti, depicting a day in the marriage of Sam (Charles H. Eaton) and Dinah (Zoie Reams). Sam commutes by train to his job as an executive at some level, while Dinah stays behind in search of ways to find fulfillment. The two speak little to one another, and when they do it is mostly to express discontents. Theirs is not a happy marriage, but they seem tracked in routines and prescribed roles that they don't know how to change. Their musical themes are more fluid, with a feel akin to Bernstein's ballets for On the Town.

In one fabulous scene, Dinah describes the movie she has just seen, called Trouble in Tahiti. Here the music takes a South Seas aura deliberately adapted to please Western ears, such as could be heard on stage in the original run of South Pacific, playing at the very time Trouble in Tahiti premiered. In this case, Bernstein seems to be poking fun at the penchant for Americans to homogenize exotica in order to make it palatable to main street tastes. Stage director Kyle Weiler creatively has devised a fantasia around this scene with the Jazz Trio singers improvising a tropical setting, as Dinah forgets her place and allows herself to dance to sensual island rhythms.

In the course of their day, Dinah also sees her therapist, to whom she relates her most recent dream, while Sam makes self-satisfying deals at work, meets with his secretary to allay any trace of a past indiscretion, and prevails in a handball tournament at his gym. In a painful scene, Dinah and Sam unexpectedly cross paths midday. Each invents a lunch appointment they must hurry off to, rather than spend an hour staring over their plates at each other. None of the other characters (Tom's secretary, his clients, Dinah's therapist, and others) speak, underscoring the sense that Sam and Dinah are in control of their narratives–if only they could recognize and seize that control, rather than caving in to the roles and fears that society has drummed into them.

Jeremiah Sanders and Zoie Reams in Service Provider
Photo by Cory Weaver
While Trouble in Tahiti is a sobering social commentary, Service Provider, first staged in 2016, makes an extremely funny statement about how we live today. The service referenced in the title is cell phone service, though it can also refer to the human server at an upscale restaurant that is the setting for this opera. Autumn (Zoie Reams) and Beau (Jeremiah Sanders) are celebrating their third anniversary together, gloating over how perfectly matched they are, having "checked all the boxes." Once Autumn receives a phone text, however, she is a goner: reading and sending texts, scrolling, taking and sending photos, and ignoring both Beau and the fastidious server (Efrain Corralejo). Beau tries but fails to intervene, and things get worse when he starts to receive texts from Charlene (Keely Futterer), a woman with whom he has just ended an affair. It leads up to a slap-stick brawl, with stage director Kyle Weiler showing his affinity for organizing chaotic stage business to an audience's delight.

Weiss' score for Service Provider works perfectly as a melodically lilting frame to carry de los Santos' libretto, though without offering any memorable themes. The music never distracts from the libretto, and here the story is everything, with its arch critique of our addiction to electronic devices, and the damage that addiction causes. There is also a hilarious jab at overly precious restaurant servers who recite the daily bill of fare to diners with the flourish of one describing the achievements of a Nobel laureate.

Zoie Reams has lead roles in both operas and gives phenomenal performances in both, not only vocally, with a clear soprano, but in portraying two vastly different characters: one an emotionally isolated housewife, the other an independent but device-addicted modern woman. One suffers from a lack of communication, the other drowning in too much of it. Charles H. Eaton brings a beautiful, deep voice to his performance as Sam, the male lead in Trouble in Tahiti. Eaton sings with great authority, most notably when describing himself as a man born to be a winner, a powerful segment of Bernstein's score. Eaton shows Sam gloating and overly impressed with himself at the office and the gym, but at a loss for how to conduct himself in his marriage.

Jeremiah Sanders is part of the Jazz Trio in Trouble in Tahiti. As Beau, the flustered husband–and philanderer–in Service Provider, he skillfully handles vocal duties with his robust voice, while showing a flare for the libretto's comedy. Efrain Corralejo, also in the Jazz Trio, is sublime as Dallas, the Service Provider waiter, delivering his lines with just the right tone of officiousness. Keely Futterer, the third Jazz Trio member, ably sings the role of Charlene, Beau's spurned mistress, blending determination with bawdiness to flesh out her character.

Christopher Weiss conducts the Minnesota Opera Orchestra, which plays beautifully and has a full sound that seems to benefit from the acoustics provided by Luminary Arts' historic stone walls. Benjamin Olson's scenic design makes ingenious use of hanging panels that slide back and forth to create a suburban home, an executive office, a gym, and the outdoor seating area of a posh restaurant. Amber Brown's costumes are delightful–especially when they are reversed to create a south seas image–and Kathy Maxwell's lighting works well in tandem with the scenic design to highlight action and mood.

The two operas' unifying themes of communications (the agony of spouses unable to communicate their needs or feelings, and the abuse we suffer at the hand of digital devices that prompt us to ignore the actual human beings in our presence) ring true as messages worth absorbing, and both are expressed through smartly written and composed pieces, delivered by an outstanding cast in a stylish production. I have learned my lesson, and never again will expect less than excellence from any program mounted by Minnesota Opera, no matter how short or long it may be.

Trouble in Tahiti and Service Provider run through March 23, 2024, presented by Minnesota Opera at the Luminary Arts Center, 700 North First Street, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-333-6699 or visit

Trouble in Tahiti: Music and Libretto by Leonard Bernstein; Service Provider: Music by Christopher Weiss, Libretto by John de los Santos; Conductor: Joseph Li; Stage Director and Choreographer: Kyle Weiler; Scenic Design: Benjamin Olsen; Costume Design: Amber Brown; Lighting Design: Kathy Maxwell; Wig, Hair and Make-Up Design: Emma Gustafson; Intimacy Director: Alessandra Bongiardina; Head of Music and Assistant Conductor: Mario Antonio Marra; Principal Coach and Chorus Director: Celeste Marie Johnson; Répétiteur: Erica Guo; Assistant Stage Director: Margaret Jumonville; Production Stage Manager: Patricia Garvey.

Cast: Trouble in Tahiti: Efrain Corralejo (Jazz Trio), Charles H. Eaton (Sam), Keely Futterer (Jazz Trio), Zoie Reams (Dinah), Jeremiah Sanders (Jazz Trio). Service Provider: Efrain Corralejo (Dallas), Keely Futterer (Charlotte), Zoie Reams (Autumn), Jeremiah Sanders (Beau).