Tennessee Williams’ classic American drama, A Streetcar Named Desire, comes to life in an innovative reinterpretation composed by André Previn, with collaboration and performance by opera superstar Renee Fleming at the LA Opera.
With a modern-sounding score and many dissonant chords, this version of Streetcar is much more ethereal, mystical, and metaphorical than its nonmusical original. As with most opera, the standalone set pieces convey a depth of emotion that is often more satisfying in opera than in drama.
And the familiar classic is filled with bountiful melodramatic and intense emotion to be explored in this rendition. Every character is well rounded and magnificent in the role, with special kudos to Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch,whose likeable character and touching duets with Fleming as Blanche bring down the house. Ryan McKinny as Stanley Kowalski is a sly actor and wonderful to watch in the role, as his performance is so reminiscent of that of Marlon Brando in the famous movie version. His operatic voice is so in tune with his character and actions that one barely notices that he is singing.
Stacey Tappan as Stella is developed as a character and understandable with the emotional life heightened more than in the original. Victoria Livengood’s large presence and voice as neighbor Eunice lights up the stage and her role also seems fuller in the musical version.
And of course, Ms. Fleming, with her world-renowned instrument - her magical voice - is so crystalline that every note seems completely from the heart, especially when she is emoting. I must say that she is such a pretty and wholesome-looking beauty, that in a way it threw me from the usual stereotype of a more neurotic and jaded Blanche. Even her selfish demands on Stella are done with charm and don’t seem annoying. Her voice is perfect, but her presence is so much more elevated than the character we are used to seeing as Blanche that there is nothing sordid about her.
In today’s world, in some ways far from the 1940s in which this takes place, many of Blanche’s “transgressions” seem especially unique to the Southern gentility and culture in which she grew up. That is one aspect of the production which has shifted. The steamy, small, close rooms of the traditional set are replaced with moveable, light furniture. It seems to want to accommodate the big voices. The orchestra is upstage where one can clearly see the very long and graceful arms of the dashing conductor Evan Rogister. The Southern ambiance in general is somewhat diffused in an airier interpretation, with Blanche’s ghosts occasionally appearing onstage, as well as a group of young, half-clothed, buff young men, who often silently watch the action.
All this plus the operatic singing place the action somehow in a different kind of sphere. Director Brad Dalton has modified actions to bring out the essence of those actions rather than the original, perhaps more local-feeling, movement. His direction makes Blanche seem less confined and so conveys more of an internal, rather than external, pressure.
Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.
Photos by Robert Millard courtesy LA Opera.
(This run of Streetcar has concluded. The next performances of the currently running Thais are May 29, June 1, June 4, and June 7. All are 7:30pm except June 1 at 2pm.))
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