André Previn : A Streetcar Named Desire
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The opera is in three acts and takes place at the home of Stanley and Stella Kowalski at Elysian Fields, New Orleans.
BLANCHE DUBOIS: Soprano
STANLEY KOWALSKI: Baritone
STELLA KOWALSKI: Soprano
HAROLD MITCHELL (MITCH): Tenor
EUNICE HUBBELL: Mezzo-Soprano
STEVE HUBBELL: Tenor
A YOUNG COLLECTOR: Tenor
MEXICAN WOMAN: Mezzo-Soprano
NURSE: Non-singing role
DOCTOR: Non-singing role
PABLO GONZALES: Non-singing, non-speaking role
Act I, Scene 1
Blanche DuBois has suffered the loss of both her ancestral home and her job when she arrives in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella, who has married Stanley Kowalski, an ex-G.I. trucker.
Act I, Scene 2 a few days later
Stanley, infuriated by Blanche's artificial airs, her suggestive behavior, and what he regards as her loss of his wife's birthright, is determined to expose Blanche's lies about her past-which is more tragic and sordid than he is able to imagine.
Act I, Scene 3 that night
During a poker game Blanche meets Harold Mitchell (Mitch), a workmate of Stanley's, very much tied to his mother's apron strings. Blanche sets her sights on him. Stanley, drunk, breaks up the evening and strikes Stella, whom he regards as siding against him with Blanche. After this violence, and against Blanche's advice, Stella returns to Stanley's bed. The next morning Stanley overhears Blanche entreating her sister to leave him.
Act II, Scene 1 some weeks later
Stanley tells Stella that he has a friend who is making inquiries about Blanche in her hometown of Laurel. When he and his now-pregnant wife go out for the evening, Blanche attempts to seduce a young paper boy, pulling back at the last minute. She later goes out with Mitch on a date.
Act II, Scene 2 that night
An amorous Mitch unburdens his heart to Blanche, who in turn tells him of her brief marriage to a young homosexual and how she blames herself for his suicide.
Act III, Scene 1 some weeks later, Blanche's birthday
Mitch is late for the party. Stanley, who feels that his home and marriage are both threatened by Blanche, breaks up the celebration when he reveals that his friend has discovered Blanche's unsavory reputation in Laurel for seducing young men, and the fact that she had been told to leave town. He hands Blanche a one-way ticket back home and tells her that Mitch now knows everything and will not be coming around again. Thus begins the fragmentation of Blanche's mind.
Act III, Scene 2 later that night
Stella has been taken to a hospital for a premature delivery. Mitch, drunk, invades the apartment and bitterly reproaches Blanche: just as her desperate hopes lie with him, his had lain with her. They have both lost their emotional refuge. His denunciation of her as someone too unclean to enter his mother's house and the appearance of a Mexican woman selling flowers for the dead are the triggers that start to unhinge Blanche's mind.
Act III, Scene 3 later
Blanche's fragmentation is completed when Stanley rapes her.
Act III, Scene 4 some days later
Blanche prepares to leave for a visit to a fictitious old admirer. In fact Stella, unable to believe in Blanche's accusations against Stanley, is packing Blanche's clothes for her to take to the asylum when the doctor arrives. Now she depends in a new way on "the kindness of strangers."
Bruce Beresford, stage director
Opera Australia/Tom Woods
2 August 2007; Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
One of the most talked-about operas ...from the US is A Streetcar Named Desire, composed by Andre Previn with libretto by Philip Littell, based on the famous Tennessee Williams play of the same name.
The new Opera Australia production based on the 1998 premier season in San Francisco opened at the Opera House on Thursday, and it was a sobering night for opera-goers. The storyline is based on the tortured lives of a group of family, friends and lovers in the New Orleans of the 1930s.
The emotions drawn out in this uncomfortable unfolding of a near-contemporary tragedy are raw in the extreme, and the principals deserve high praise for their performances...
The movie-making background of director Bruce Beresford is evident in the stage effects of this production, with revolving sets revealing various interiors of the Kowalski home, with a dramatic vaporising mist giving a surreal hazy dream-like allusion to the emotional rollercoaster lives of the characters within.
Barry Quigley, The Mosman Daily (Australia), 08/08/2007
....[Previn] has gone for a literal adaptation, where the details of realist dialogue have been folded into the musical flow...He has a developed harmonic language which he handles with assurance, and a good sense of pace, and shies away from show-stopping tunes...
Much of the impact of the work results from the impact of the original drama...The strength of Opera Australia's production is it is well cast and very well produced.
Bruce Beresford's production, overlaid with projections from '40s movies, with John Stoddart's classic revolving and deceptively spacious set flavours the setting with a nod to a classic age of American drama while maintaining brutal immediacy.
The production is an undoubted success...
Peter McCallam, The Sydney Morning Herald, 06/08/2007
Operas survive or prosper by their music, and Previn's score is appealing on many levels. English composer Benjamin Britten once said the first requirement of an opera composer is the ability to write many types of music, and Previn is both precisely characterized and melodically appealing. Both sensational and mature,
Previn's "Streetcar" is a rare hit among contemporary operas.
Mark Kanney , Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
[In its] UK premiere, André Previn's operatic version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE [was presented] with several of the original cast appearing alongside the excellent London Symphony Orchestra for a riveting semi-staged performance under the composer's direction.
The opera (which uses a scrupulously faithful libretto by Philip Littell) has superbly crafted, full-blooded set pieces. There are luscious arias for Blanche, confrontations both savage and meltingly tender, and moody orchestral interludes evoking smoldering lusts. But just as important, Previn displays a confidence in the power of pure lyricism to carry raw emotion that has not been apparent in opera since Britten's day.
...It is certainly Previn's finest work and that [should] tempt you to ride this STREETCAR.
Richard Morrison, The Times (London)
[Previn's] work, with librettist Philip Littell, preserves the essential power of Tennessee Williams' play, at the same time it offers vocal set pieces that have claims to inevitability and long life.
When Previn came out to bow ... he and Fleming seemed shy about sharing the enthusiastic applause. Yet they, and director Colin Graham and this stylish cast, had put onstage a work that will have to be considered in any appraisal of opera's grand march to the millennium.
Daniel Webster , Philadelphia Inquirer
A great play has become a thrilling opera....a tour de force mix of drama and music, set design and casting, language and poetics.
There is an appropriate musical gravity, with a bluesy feel and a nervous undertone that serves the story well. Occasionally, the score recalls the onetime modernism of Stravinsky.
Benjamin Morrison , The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
The orchestral sequences of the opera are quite wonderful full of creative motifs cast into fresh orchestrations and all the while pulsing with the heated passions and conflicting pathos of Williams' tale.
Cheryl North , Oakland (CA) Tribune
Previn's theatrical instincts are put to good use in his score, which always underlines the dramatic situation and fits the prosody of the words superbly.
Fleming is nothing short of magnificent as Blanche - golden-age singing combined with dramatic gifts that the old-time singers never even tried for.
Robert Croan , Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This is among the most riveting of contemporary operas. Illusion meets reality; past meets future; and desire dominates all within this volatile crucible....Previn has done an amazing job....
Paul Hertelendy , San Jose Mercury News
Previn's score, which he conducted himself, is never less than fluent, responsive to the drama and sensitively written for the voice.
Rupert Christiansen , London Daily Telegraph
It is clear from the uncommon involvement of the audience that Previn has created a viable opera; repeated listening makes it also clear that the music does not merely piggyback on the success of the play but creates its own hypnotically engaging world.
...it is skillful music, intelligent, responsive, sensitive, and atmospheric you can hear the heat rising from the pavement.
Richard Dyer , Boston Globe
With its recurring hints of New Orleans jazz and restless but soft-edged vocal line, Previn's music deftly reflects the highly charged atmosphere full of yearning and regret. Librettist Philip Littell shapes Williams' words with equal care. Arias and duets rise naturally from the story line.
Wynne Delacoma , Chicago Sun-Times
...the opera gives poetic depth to Tennessee Williams' story of haunted Southern aristocrat Blanche DuBois as she suffers a nervous collapse after being raped by her sister's brutish husband. In the opening moments, the music establishes the tawdriness and mental instability behind Blanche's pretensions with big, brassy chords that sound like bluesy bebop falling apart.
There also are a half-dozen touching, psychologically eloquent arias in a harmonically lush, post-Richard Strauss style....
David Patrick Stearns , USA Today
The play has been brilliantly converted into a libretto by Philip Littell. He has retained its pain, poetry and pungent humour.
Previn has composed tuneful, dramatic and essentially American arias for the main characters. Of these, Blanche's "I want magic" brought the first night to a halt with applause, but I thought her "I can smell the sea air" even more beautiful....
Where Previn's musicianship shows most clearly is in his writing for voices every word of the text was audible.
Michael Kennedy , London Sunday Telegraph
The musical drama by André Previn...left the most ardent admirers of the great musician astonished at its perfection and poetry....
A Streetcar Named Desire, born at the end of the century, will remain one of the absolute masterpieces of the last fifty years.
Leighton Kerner , Village Voice
...He [Previn] writes great streetcar music and great music of desire. A powerful train-whistle motif in the orchestra opens the opera and recurs at important moments. The love music between Stanley and Stella, particularly Stella's languid, smoldering, passionate, rapturous, raw, real does exactly what music should do for an opera. It reveals why people feel the way that they do. No explanation is necessary.
Mark Swed , Los Angeles Times
The most widely discussed...new opera in recent years [came] to television in a "Great Performances" presentation on PBS. André Previn's operatic version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" fills the television screen with melodrama, florid text, touching poetry and lyrical power.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama has been transformed by a splendid libretto by Phillip Littell....
"Streetcar" makes for wonderful lyric theater and can grip audiences with the added depth only music can provide.
Byron Belt , Newhouse News Service
Fall just arrived, so it's time to think about the Rookie of the Year award. In the music world, it should go to André Previn, who has written his first opera, the brassy, bluesy, acerbic and lyrical A Streetcar Named Desire. He writes particularly well for voice....
What makes this Streetcar so worthwhile is the music.... The score ranges from angry dissonance to romantic lyricism. Streetcar is rich with color, by turns lush, frantic, heartbreaking, even funny.... Though the score has no outright jazz, there are moments of real jazziness: this is, after all, New Orleans. The clunky moments -- notably, when the nurse and doctor take Blanche away -- are offset by some fine ones. Though 20th century operas tend to be short on arias, Streetcar includes two showstoppers for Blanche.
Katrine Ames , Newsweek
In André Previn's opera A Streetcar Named Desire, the San Francisco Opera has commissioned a genuine and wholly accessible hit, one sure to remain in the repertory of the world's opera companies for a great many years. Previn writes superbly for the voice, crafting brutal, neurotic or lyrically lilting lines that make almost every word intelligible. Those words, almost all of which are Williams's, are set as inflected recitative, accented like normal speech, distinct for each character. Previn makes use of leaps in tone or volume, repetitions or ominous orchestral echoes to communicate heightened emotion, but never breaks the link with naturalistic communication.
The big question, of course, is whether a work as exquisitely, even as preciously wrought as Tennessee Williams's play needed, wanted or could be helped by the addition of music, beyond the mood music that the playwright himself asked for in his stage directions. In the orchestra, Previn maintains a respectful reticence behind the voices. At the same time the worrisome, ominous emotions it expresses convey a great deal of the violent, unspoken subtext. The score sounds genuinely contemporary...the play of instrumental colors is exciting; the overlay of blues and the pop idioms creates an overall sound of urban America. Theater-trained, dramatically astute composers [are] careful to shape the overall dynamics of their scores so that one feels and suffers the increasing entrapment of a genuinely tragic plot. Previn's vocalizing of pain is superb...in each instance, the sung music remains lucid, appropriate, even passionate.
A Streetcar Named Desire is the best new opera I have seen and heard since Britten's Death in Venice 25 years ago. In its remarkable faithfulness to the emotional tensions of the original, its richly textured, all-American score and its dedication to singable, intelligible vocal lines that are at once contemporary, pleasing to the ear and keenly in character, it marks a uniquely successful venture in the broad field of popular American music drama.
David Littlejohn , The Wall Street Journal
...Previn and libretist Philip Littell have done a splendid job of distilling the essence of Streetcar and transforming it into an opera that sings.
Two arias in Act III are showpieces that place Blanche squarely on the fringes of sanity. The first, "I want magic," already has been extracted as a concert aria, but it is the second aria, "I can smell the sea air," that exudes time-stopping rapture, recalling the farewell-to-life transcendence pervading Strauss' "Four Last Songs."
Previn leads the San Francisco Opera in what sounds like a definitive performance of his first, impressive plunge into the operatic art. May there be more.
Donald Rosenberg , The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Music is central to Tennessee Williams' play "A Streetcar Named Desire." Characters sing onstage and off, many of its stage directions call for music, and, most important, music is present in the lyrical quality of the text. Any opera based on this play confronts at the outset complicated questions about the relationship between music and words. In the three-act opera STREETCAR, composer André Previn and librettist Philip Littell have produced an adaptation that is largely faithful to the play. Previn's music, written in an accessible harmonic idiom, expands necessarily the dimensions of the Williams text. At times, the score seems a force of its own.
The orchestral scoring is effective and affecting-atmospheric and characteristically 'American' in its directness. The mood and sense of tragic inevitability is set in the opening passages, brass glissandi against sustained chords juxtaposed with solo clarinet. In the final measures, the haunting orchestration, suffused with solo trumpet lines, provides a palpable 'other world' to which Blanche travels as she delivers her celebrated remark about 'the kindness of strangers,' with trailing repetitions of the phrase 'whoever you are.'
The Previn STREETCAR deserves to be staged and heard often. It can claim a secure place among contributions to the opera genre at the century's end.
Mario R. Mercado , Opera News
Thank you, Sir André: that old Europe that begot you and then drove you away, you have portrayed her as few have, dying and great as Blanche DuBois.
Paolo Isotta, Corriere della Sera
Nothing in Previn's work seems artificial, instead it seems evolved. He did not scrimp on motives: from the very start a train signal in the orchestra, quite a few love and longing motives. The romantic craftsmanship, the repetition of motives makes the work vivid, not old-fashioned....Previn grips the audience...
Previn put Tennessee Williams' famous play to music with nervous, flickering, one-moment-piercing, the next-moment-melting music, out of which the voices effectively break through or rise and blossom out. A masterful accomplishment!