Florida Grand Opera – André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire – Elizabeth Caballero, Rebecca Krynski Cox, Hadleigh Adams & Nicholas Huff; directed by Jeffrey Buchman; conducted by Gregory Buchalter

A Streetcar Named Desire — Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Phillip Littel after the play by Tennessee Williams [sung in English with supertitles in English and Spanish]

Blanche DuBois – Elizabeth Caballero
Stella Kowalski – Rebecca Krynski Cox
Stanley Kowalski – Hadleigh Adams
Harold Mitchell (Mitch) – Nicholas Huff
Eunice Hubbell – Stephanie Doche
Mexican Woman – Amanda Olea
Steve Hubbell – David Margulis
Young Collector – Charles Callota
Doctor – Thomas Ball
Nurse – Katherine Holobinko

Florida Grand Opera Orchestra
Gregory Buchalter

Jeffrey Buchman – Director
Steven C. Kemp – Set Designer
Don Darnutzer – Lighting Designer
Howard Tsvi Kaplan – Costume Designer
Sue Sitko Schaefer – Wig & Make-up Designer
Kathleen Stakenas – Stage Manager

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 3 February, 2022
Venue: Au-Rene Theater, Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

In composing A Streetcar Named Desire, André Previn rose to the rather difficult challenge of creating an operatic adaptation of one of the most iconic of American plays. His score remains mostly within the bounds of twentieth-century late-romanticism, but is rife with allusions to New Orleans’ jazzy, bluesy musical idiom, with dissonant portrayals of its noisy urban life, including use of trombone glissandos (performed here by Salvador Saez) to represent the horn of the eponymous streetcar that has conveyed the central character, Blanche DuBois, to the home of her sister Stella as the opera begins. Orchestral interludes separating the scenes serve the same purpose as Britten’s ‘Sea Interludes’ in Peter Grimes. Phillip Little’s libretto, drawn almost entirely from Tennessee Williams’s original script (although omitting some of its most vituperative dialogue) retains the play’s powerful dramatic tensions and strong characterizations. Most of the dialogue is sung, more in the manner of Wagner than recitative, with just a few arias, primarily for Blanche – a role originally written for Renée Fleming.

Elizabeth Caballero is stunning in the demanding role of Blanche, effective in her portrayal of this complex character’s efforts to conceal her troubled past, and in her contentious sparring with brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. Caballero shows off Blanche’s more tender side in her lyrical Act Two aria, ‘Soft people have got to shimmer and glow’, but the musical mood darkens later in that Act when she shares with Stanley’s friend and colleague Mitch her lasting feelings of guilt over having driven her young first husband to suicide by expressing her disgust at his homosexuality. In Act Three, Caballero depicts Blanche’s descent into madness with ‘I want magic’, as she conjures up a memory of a Mexican woman selling flowers for the Day of the Dead, and when she dreams of dying at sea in her touching, ‘I can smell the sea air’. Caballero’s vocal stamina never seemed to fade.

Hadleigh Adams is marvelous as Stanley, a performance remarkable because Adams had to learn the role in less than a week when Steven LaBrie withdrew from the production. Adams’s characterization bristles with sexuality and he uses his resonant baritone to take full advantage of ample opportunities to demonstrate Stanley’s menacing and violent nature. Although Previn does not provide an aria for Stanley, it is his persistent inquiries into Blanche’s past that drive the opera’s plot. 

Rebecca Krynski Cox gives a sympathetic portrayal of Stella, torn by conflicting loyalties to her sister and her husband. In the beautifully performed ‘I can hardly stand it when he’s away for a night’, and in a duet with Stanley, Stella signals the unbreakable nature of her bond with her husband that will ultimately seal Blanche’s fate. Stella thus is quick to forgive Stanley for striking her, and is unwilling to believe Blanche when she accuses Stanley of rape. In the opera’s final moments, Stella stands by passively beside Stanley, holding her newborn child, as Blanche is escorted away to a mental asylum.

Nicholas Huff makes Mitch an appealing character, seeming to find much-needed peace in his relationship with Blanche that seems headed for matrimony, but is then quite convincing when he turns against her after hearing Stanley’s revelations about Blanche’s past. 

Jeffrey Buchman’s straightforward direction makes effective use of a single set representing the Kowalskis’ small New Orleans flat. The decor is plain, as befits their straitened financial condition, with the couple’s bedroom separated only by a retractable curtain from the area that serves as kitchen and living room, in which a single bed has been provided for the visiting Blanche. A movable stairway is rolled onto the stage when needed to connect to the neighbors’ upstairs apartment. Exits and entrances are made through an unseen doorway, with performers using the front of the stage to represent the adjoining sidewalk.

Gregory Buchalter led an outstanding performance supported by the excellent Florida Grand Opera Orchestra.

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