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Finding a quiet place T

A new production of Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place should be welcomed with open arms in New

York City, writes its director Christopher Alden o this NYC born and raised culture vulture of a kid, growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Leonard Bernstein loomed pretty large as an iconic embodiment of everything which was conspiring to seduce me into a life-long love affair with theatre and music. My brother and I sat enthralled in front of the family black-andwhite TV set watching Lenny’s Young Peoples’ Concerts – and do I just imagine it, or were we actually part of the live audience of young people in Carnegie Hall on a couple of occasions? In later years we had a subscription to Bernstein’s concerts with the New York Philharmonic in that heady era when his explosive Mahler performances converted us, along with the rest of the NYC concert-going public, not to mention the rest of the world, into devoted Mahlerites. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced greater live theatre than a Bernstein Mahler concert, producing a thrill not so very different from the satisfaction I derived in those years from endlessly replaying my LPs of Bernstein’s great Broadway musicals West Side Story, Candide, On the Town (in which my ballerina mother had danced) and Wonderful Town. Bernstein’s conducting and composing were a major factor in hooking this future opera director for life on the drive to tell stories through music.

Fast forward a few decades and you can see why I’m so excited to have been asked by George Steel, general manager and artistic director of New York City Opera, to direct the NYC premiere of Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place. It’s kind of amazing that it’s taken almost 30 years for Bernstein’s one shot at writing a big, serious opera to reach the city where he reigned supreme. Since its initial productions in Houston, Washington, DC, Milan and Vienna, A Quiet Place has not had many revivals, and it has gained the reputation of being the anti-West Side Story (ie Not Bernstein’s Greatest Hit). But it’s high time to turn that reputation around, and for the rest of the world to fall in love with this musically sophisticated and theatrically compelling piece as much as I have during the past year in which I have been studying and preparing it.

Having spent much of his life fleeing from the daunting task of writing a serious opera, Bernstein finally accepted the challenge at the age of 62. He and his librettist, Stephen Wadsworth (an acclaimed opera director whose new production of Boris Godunov opens at the Met a couple of weeks before A Quiet Place across the plaza at Lincoln Center), conceived the piece as a sequel to the extremely successful one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti, for which Bernstein had penned both music and libretto more than 30 years earlier. It strikes me as odd but significant that Lenny had apparently