Recorded live with the San Francisco Opera, the world premiere production of Andre Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire. For his first-ever opera, Previn turned to one of the most celebrated plays in the history of American t... more »heater, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire. He saw the haunting story of lost youth and innocence in the romantic, shadowy world of New Orleans as ideal material. Collaborating with librettist Philip Littell, Previn has captured all the claustrophobic tension, volatile emotion and sexual undertow of Williams' original in his own Streetcar. This world premiere recording took place in September 1998 at the spectacularly renovated War Memorial Opera House, with Previn conducting. The cast includes Renee Fleming as Blanche DuBois, Rodney Gilfry as Stanley Kowalski, Elizabeth Futral as Stella Kowalski, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch. Nominated for a 1999 Emmy Award. English: Stereo. 167 minutes.« less
One of the few new operas that really hit the mark.
J. Barry-Smith | Brisbane, Qld, Australia | 06/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many, many new operas written each year. Some of them get workshopped by an opera company, and even fewer get to the stage of actually being performed in front of a paying audience. Now, if the composer has a name like Andre Previn, and the work is based on one of the twentieth centuries best know plays from one of America's most respected writers you most definitely have a head start. However, actually making all of these elements work together as a cohesive and worthwhile whole is the true challenge, and this new opera has met and exceed the expectations of that challenge. Here is a work that enhances the effect of the original rather than defacing it or 'dumbing it down'. The music is beautifully evocative of the time and place in which the drama is set, and has the huge benefit of being composed by a man who is also a jazz musican, and therefore understands that less often creates more. The libretto has been skillfully 'arranged' from the original play so that well known lines are still as they appeared in the original, but has been augmented for moments when there is more time needed to expand the original thoughts musically. The direction of Colin Graham is masterly, naturalistic and truly based on the development of each of the characters. The set is extremely clever in its simplicity, and yet still creates exactly the right claustrophobic atmosphere. And finally, the performances will be very hard to better. Renee Fleming is a singing actress of considerable stature who creates a new Blanche DuBois that is full of complexity and 'guts'. Both Elizabeth Futral and Rodney Gilfry give of their considerable best as Stella and Stanley, and also both look exactly right for the roles they play. The supporting cast are all quite exceptional and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra under the baton of the composer run the full gambit styles, making huge lush sounds when needed, and even more surprisingly, sounding truly 'jazzy' at other times. A triumph for all concerned, and a joy to experience at home."
Previn and San Fran. Opera out-Tennessee Tennessee Williams!
Jack Bowyer | Sacramento, CA USA | 01/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't know. Maybe Tennessee Williams wrote operas and just forgot the music. Phillip Littell's libretto is faithful to Williams in great detail and he has added beautiful arias for the principals in complete harmony with their characters. Previn's music weaves it all together and evokes the atmosphere of New Orleans so naturally I can't remember how the play worked without it. I saw the telecast of the SFO's world premiere and recorded it, but the video is far superior to the telecast because the editors covered all the staging problems encountered by SFO. When I first heard that SFO had commissioned an opera of 'Streetcar' I said Blanche must be played by Renee Fleming, but had no other casting ideas. Fleming was perfect alright; when she sang I could smell Blanche's perfume. I know there were Stanley Kowalskis before Rodney Gilfrey, but who were they? Then there was Elizabeth Futral. Her singing, acting and LOOK made me smell a more natural aroma of juicy Stella. She was vocally, dramatically and visually so stunning that I think I'll shut up now. American operas and especially late 20th century operas rarely make my short list but this one is very near the top. Now, who's going to compose 'The Glass Menagerie'?"
A WASTED OPPORTUNITY
PROMINENT CRITIC | New York, NY | 10/23/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
Andre Previn and his librettist, Philip Littell, have performed a remarkable feat: they have taken what could have and should have been a tremendous opera, and managed to do everything wrong that could possibly be done wrong. Here is one of the greatest plays ever written, which in its power and intensity is basically an opera already. Now - music presumably enhances the drama in an opera, intensifying the dramatic highlights, so if anything, this should have had twice the power. Instead, Previn and Litell have concocted an "opera" entirely devoid of either dramatic or musical impact. Start with the libretto. The "librettist" has for all practical purposes merely taken ninety percent of the play script verbatim, and called it a libretto. Previn might just as well have written the music straight from Williams' script - it could not have come out much different. A libretto is supposed to be an adaptation: the librettist should condense the drama while maintaining the dramatic highlights, and then add some original material to suit the purposes of a libretto, and to give the composer the proper material to work with. One of the main aspects of this new material is the writing of arias, which of course cannot be found in the original. Arias did not come about as some arbitrary formula imposed from without. They evolved as the most natural and logical development of the previously mentioned function of music enhancing the dramatic highlights. If music in general enhances the dramatic highlights, an aria does it to an even greater degree, being longer, broader, and very specific to the particular moment. This "Streetcar" has not one single aria as such. There are four passages which the audience dutifully applauds as though they are arias, but they are merely sections of verbatim play dialogue, and to make matters worse, they seem arbitrarily chosen, not even of any special dramatic strength or importance. One waits and waits for an aria, but alas, none are forthcoming. More frustrating yet, no end of potentially powerful dramatic moments arrive, and one says, "At last, here will most certainly be an aria, the moment cries out for one." But no, the moment is allowed to simply peter out, and golden opportunity after golden opportunity is lost, and powerful dramatic passages that should have been expanded and intensified evaporate, rendering the entire opera dramatically and musically homogeneous. Furthermore, while the music is not atonal, Previn, in three hours, not once manages to find the tonic. When music accompanies drama, there is no neutral or middle ground - if it does not enhance the drama, it diminishes it by its very presence, which then becomes merely intrusive and essentially gratuitous. Such is the case here. Whatever drama manages to emerge, which isn't much, is solely the drama inherent in this great play. The question then arises: why did Previn bother to write this in the first place. Since the music neither improves the drama, nor can stand alone as music, it becomes an utterly pointless and futile exercise, and we are left with only the drama, severely diminished. It is clearly preferable, then, to simply go see the original play on stage if one can find a performance, or watch the film. Either of these two alternatives will show the great and powerful drama of this play, and will demonstrate just how inept is Previn's attempt to turn it into an opera.
Flamingo? Canari? Tarantula? For sure a tragedy
Jacques COULARDEAU | OLLIERGUES France | 06/17/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The libretto-writer and the composer have mainly kept the text of the play, thus going back to its social meaning, after the film that move away from it, though, maybe, with a less heavy hand due to the cutting of the last sentence of the play. The game is thus less social, more individual, and yet the main cause of the tragedy is the social bigotry of southern culture, of southern society, maybe of human society as a whole. But it is an opera and the play gets a completely new dimension. André Previn's music is very modern and it refuses all the singing variations that are so common in classical operas, particularly in the Italian tradition. That gives to the text a clarity and a force that it deserves. Yet the sensual music and the very expressive singing amplify the power of the text. This appears very claerly in Blanche's confession of her « crime » concerning her first husband. She enters a long aria that is poignant and dramatic. This is emphasized by her getting down from the apartment through the invisible wall facing the audience, down two steps to the front of the stage, as if she was moving from one place and one time to another place and another time. The equivalent of a flashback in this medium. This scene becomes central in the opera and unerasable from our memory and consciousness. Especially since Mitch remains in the apartment, behind Renée Fleming. Another outstanding scene is the finale. There, the apartment turns away to the left and opens a vast perspective, lighted in blue and misty, into which a blue-dressed Blanche walks as if she were going onto/into the vast blue sea she has just dreamed of. A metaphor of her escape, of her sacrifice, of her ordeal in this society that cannot accept misfits to the point of educating people into absurd bigotry that causes the worst dramas imaginable. A great moment of pleasure with great music, great singing, great acting. I will only criticize, moderately, the choice of the voices. The three women have voices that are too close and their contrast is thus too little powerful. The men can also be seen as being too close with the same result. In a way we were expecting Mitch to have a very low voice, that of a bass, and Stanley to be a more powerful tenor able to dominate the stage, to crush any rebellion with his sole voice. But a marvellous moment of music nevertheless.Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Perpignan"
A Great Disappointment
James Montmarquet | Tennessee | 02/28/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I am crazy about Renee Fleming, admire Tennessee Williams, and can enjoy, say, Lulu -- so why did I dislike this so? The sets and cast look great; the acting is good enough. The fault, I suppose, lies primarily with the composer: he captures some of the desperation of Blanche, but not the (faded) beauty. Apparently, he wrote this part for Renee Fleming; but, for one thing, I would like to hear it sung more softly -- with slower tempos! Maybe there is vocal beauty here that this performance fails to capture because it doesn't let the music sufficiently "breathe." Renee Fleming has a wonderful melancholy look, which her at times almost Wagnerian vocalizing belies -- Isolde, fallen on hard times."