Personalities | Leonard Bernstein | Modern Era | Opera

1918–90, American

A hugely talented composer and conductor, Bernstein inspired the American music scene with his passion and flamboyance. Born in Massachusetts and essentially self-taught on the piano, he studied at Harvard and became an overnight sensation when stepping in for ailing New York Philharmonic conductor Bruno Walter in November 1943. Success as a composer followed, ranging from the movie score for On the Waterfront (1954), to the Broadway musicals On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1952) and West Side Story (1957). Bernstein also enjoyed plaudits for his initial foray into opera, the one-act Trouble in Tahiti (1951), which melded contemporary pop-music styles with conventional operatic vocal techniques while depicting the marital woes of a couple living in suburbia. However, his work in the field of opera rarely matched the success of that for the musical stage.

The comic operetta Candide (1956) never took off during its initial run, and it underwent numerous rewrites by Bernstein and no fewer than seven librettists over the course of more than 30 years. Its 1973, revival has become the standard performance version, although that by John Mauceri in 1988–89, a year before his death in New York, was actually Bernstein’s own personal favourite. On the other hand, resurrecting the Trouble in Tahiti characters (and much of the music) for A Quiet Place (1983) was altogether less credible and compelling.

Introduction | Modern Era | Opera
Personalities | Harrison Birtwistle | Modern Era | Opera
Techniques | Operetta | Turn of the Century | Opera


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