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Does it conjure up images of long dead classical composers like Mozart and Verdi; centuries old tales filled with plot twists involving Valkyries and sprites; divas belting out songs in German or Italian? The Virginia Opera is boldly trying to change those perceptions of opera with a season filled with modern and American opera selections. An operatic version of the classic Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire opened Saturday night at the Harrison Opera House.
Whether they read the 1947 play, or watched the award winning 1951 movie starring Marlon Brando, or seen one of the numerous adaptations (including a Simpsons version with Ned Flanders and Marge Simpson in the leading roles) most of America is familiar with the tale of Stanley and Stella Kowalski and Stella’s sister Blanche DuBois. After losing their southern family plantation, Blanche comes to stay with her sister and husband in their small home in New Orleans. Blanche, with her façade of refinement and pretension, clashes with Stanley’s brutish and ‘common’ ways. It’s a tenuous situation that culminates in violence, breakdowns, and the famous line, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
The opera, composed by Andre Previn in 1998, adheres well to the play both in substance and style. Most of the lyrics are transposed directly from the dialogue of the play. Sung in English, supertitles are still displayed over the stage. The orchestrations have a jazzy New Orleans feel to them. The opera is broken down into three acts; essentially Blanche’s arrival to the home, Stanley discovering the truth behind Blanche’s past, and the climax of such diverse personalities living together.
As always, the VA Opera has a superbly talented cast. Soprano Julia Ebner, as Stella, deftly portrays a woman caught up in the magnetism of her husband, and torn between her husband and her sister. Kelly Cae Hogan has the demanding role of Blanche, a character with a tumultuous range of emotions and motivations… she handles it beautifully. Baritone David Adam Moore is an excellent Stanley. Wishing to keep the audience focused on the characters’ struggles and interactions, the set design is minimalist: a sofa, trunk, and kitchen table. Representing Stanley, the sofa alludes to his being king of his home. The trunk holds all the possessions Blanche owns. Stella’s domesticity is symbolized by the kitchen table.
The key to this opera really lies with the audience’s ability to connect with and identify with the characters. If you’re able to identify with the desire to wrap yourself in illusions to protect yourself for the cruelties of the world like Blanch, or perhaps understand Stella being romantically drawn to a simple, animalistic man, then you may find yourself wrapped up in the tale of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Streetcar is playing at the Harrison Opera House through Nov. 24th, then traveling to Richmond and Fairfax. Ticket prices range from $25-$114. For more information go here.
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By Erin Cook
© February 18