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“Who wants real? I know I don’t want it. I want magic!” are lines of dialogue many know. In the past, these lines from Tennessee Williams’ legendary 1948 Pulitzer Prize winning “A Streetcar Named Desire” have been spoken, and not associated with music or singing. That has now changed. As an opera, with music in a key central role throughout, the rarely performed in D.C, “Streetcar,” with its memorably rich, damaged characters, takes on a whole new life.
As an opera, the music composed by Andre Previn is a critical full-time partner in the production. It adds its own rich color, texture, moods and emotions; its own take present sensuality and terror, happiness and joy.
Local audiences will be able to hear and see for themselves as the Virginia Opera continues its 2012-2013 season at the George Mason Center for the Arts.
In conversations with the conductor, director and key cast members, it is abundantly clear that the Virginia Opera is thoroughly committed to producing a passionate, smoldering “Streetcar.” This “Streetcar” will have jazzy and blues-infused music at its core befitting the seamy lives of the characters and their New Orleans location.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” remains the story conjured by Williams of a fading, fragile, and fearfully repressed Blanche DuBois, living just this side of sanity. She arrives in the New Orleans apartment of her married sister, Stella Kowalski and her working-class, brutish if not sometimes child-like husband, Stanley. Stanley does not take to Blanche’s seemingly contrived manners and quickly becomes her adversary. From these quick plot points, “Streetcar” takes on its fiery life.
“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a contemporary opera, sung in English, with music composed by Academy Award-winning and Grammy winner André Previn. Previn also received Kennedy Center Honors in 1998. He composed the opera In 1995. It premiered at the San Francisco Opera during the 1998-99 season. The libretto or text for the opera is by Philip Littell.
For Virginia Opera Conductor Ari Pelto “the crux of the work is faithful and devoted” to the beloved Williams play. “The spirit of his writing, the truth of the drama which is iconic and so powerful including its psychological truths are all there.”
As an opera, “Streetcar” has “a heightened experience with the singing and surrounded by a full orchestra.” added Pelto. As an opera, “these is the added component of music that is evocative of the psychological turmoil of the characters.” The music can be “ steamy and tawdry” for Blanche and for Stanley “prowling.”
Director Sam Helfrich has a “deep passion for contemporary music, and a deep love for Williams.” “Streetcar” gives him the “opportunity to go deep into the best.” Audiences will fear how the music “creates moods, and gives direction in the production. The music heightens and illuminates. It brings out feelings.”
In taking on his role as Stanley, David Adam Moore said “it is a challenging role, so iconic.” He did a great deal of character research before rehearsals to “understand what drives Stanley emotionally.” He also worked to bring his own take on his character’s classic lines that can be sung or done in more of a narrative style. Think about an iconic line sung rather than spoken such as ‘’We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning” as Stanley begins a violent connection with Blanche that pushes her beyond sanity.
“The story is so engrossing; it shows the great emotional extremes of the characters.” said Kelly Cae Hogan, who plays Blanche DuBois. “These are real people, they are tortured, but real.” And Blanche has so “ moody feelings to be expressed” through her singing.
In inviting new audiences to the opera, Hogan noted that “this is a great opportunity to experience opera as an art form. We want to touch our audience with the production.” This time when someone hears those famous words, “whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,“ there will be music as a full partner married with the words.
As Pelto said, “Streetcar” is an opera that is “a perfect chance to see a story audiences are familiar with and can be amazed with as an opera. The music adds so many layers to the experience.”
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© David Siegel, 2013, Fairfax Times