A Bernstein-Carter double bill at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein

As part of its “Young Directors” programme, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein is offering an imaginative double bill of contemporary American works: Elliott Carter’s What Next? and Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. The first of these, Carter’s only opera, written when he was in his late eighties, is a Beckett-like piece. Five characters involved in a road accident can no longer remember how the situation arose, nor the nature of their relationships with each other. They struggle to find their identity, first with utterances disjointed and inarticulate, then with reminiscences sometimes platitudinous, sometimes lyrical. Eventually they regress into childhood but the problems remain unresolved. Carter’s score is plangent but restrained, with instrumental motifs reflecting the different characters and their personalities. Tibor Torell’s production was colourful and inventive, if sometimes too complicated. Jesse Wong gave an assured reading from the pit. An experienced team of singers discharged their responsibilities confidently, with strong characterisation vocally and dramatically. Heidi Elisabeth Meier with her soaring soprano particularly impressed as she related remembered fairy tales.

The Bernstein was, of course, completely different in style – melodic and jazzy – but its portrayal of a sterile marriage, with a trio of singers commenting like a Greek chorus on their predicament, is moving and powerful. A neat, unpretentious production by Philipp Westerbarkei served the piece well. But conductor Patrick Francis Chestnut did not get the right balance between orchestra and singers and, perhaps because of this, Thomas Laske as the husband and Ramona Zaharia as the wife were rather pale figures, not making enough of the text.