Leonard Bernstein's short opera Trouble in Tahiti (1951-52) is a humorous but scathing satire on postwar consumerism and bourgeois marriage. Such critiques are now so commonplace that it may be difficult to appreciate the opera's political edge unless it is seen against the backdrop of repression that marked the years following World War II: in an era in which a group as mainstream as the League of Women Voters was denounced as a "communist front organization," Trouble in Tahiti's criticisms risked reprisals
It is uncommon for composers to write their own libretto for an opera. In writing his own libretto for Trouble in Tahiti, Leonard Bernstein took on the opera genre in a non-conventional way: with a text about a failing marriage. He used the unhappy marriage of his parents as source material for the libretto. The music of the opera highlights the tension of the marriage, including several duets in which the couple remembers a time of healthiness in their relationship. Bernstein uses the allegory of the unhappy couple to both illustrate the social expectation of a suburban family in post-war America and as a means to address gender roles by showing how each of the characters struggle to comply with the gendered social expectations of their parental and spousal duties
Gentry talks about Leonard Bernstein who composed his second symphony, subtitled The Age of Anxiety. In that work, Bernstein faced directly the challenge posed by the Aaron Copland generation. Later in life, he could affect a certain cynicism about that challenge, famously quipping of Copland's Third that it had "become an American monument, like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial or something." But in the late 1940s, Bernstein still believed that there could be a "Great American Symphony," and that he could be the one to write it; that symphony was The Age of Anxiety. Furthermore, that such a cynical and ultimately antiheroic piece of music was his response speaks volumes about the emotional tone of the United States at the dawn of McCarthyism.
Trouble in Tahiti tells the story of Sam and Dinah, a young couple ensconced in a picket fence quest for respectability, and thrall to the notion that their life together must be the only way to live— could one even imagine another? It opens with a trio singing of the joys of suburbia. It’s a popular-style little ditty, a jumpy “shuffle” that extols the virtues of complacency ca. 1950.