As with so much that Bernstein touched, A Quiet Place is lavishly imperfect. When it goes wrong, it does so with panache. Long and relentless, it’s loaded down with exposition and fortissimo angst. But if Bernstein’s hand is heavy, it is also deft. The third and final act finds Dede communing with her absent mother in Dinah’s overgrown garden. Sarah Jakubiak, dressed in sweats and perched atop an old swing set, sings the ravishing aria with poignant simplicity, and the scene recalls all those other regretful child-women in opera, delivering their arias from balconies and parapets. Except that Dede can’t indulge in madness, suicide, or some desperately self-sacrificing gesture: She has a family to heal.
In the final minutes, Bernstein manages to eke out some consolation. The surviving family members proffer their separate thoughts (with contributions from Dinah’s ghost). Mustering enormous skill and with a nod to Mozart, Bernstein gathers these gnarled threads of love, fear, and resentfulness into a shimmering ensemble while still keeping the characters distinct. Airy, sunlit harmonies, a familiar echo from an earlier chapter in the composer’s life, reassure us that somewhere there’s a place for these cracked souls. Just now, that’s City Opera, the nurturing haven that American opera needs.