Streetcar Named Desire, A1951

There are those who believe (whether they admit it or not) that opera is an exclusively European art whose history ended with the death of Puccini. They are, of course, entitled to this delusion, but it creates serious obstacles for a vital form of new music and it deprives opera fans of some memorable theatrical experiences. For most of the 20th century and very intensively in its last half, American composers have been transforming literary masterpieces into operas that deserve and are gradually winning a place in the repertoire with the European classics. With A Streetcar Named Desire (1998), André Previn is the latest addition to the list of these composers, with Gian Carlo Menotti, Dominick Argento, John Corigliano, Carlisle Floyd, John Harbison, William Bolcom, Mark Adamo, and others. Previn came to classical music from a background as a jazz pianist and soundtrack composer, credentials that may raise a few eyebrows but obviously developed his sense of what works dramatically in music and a knack for regional flavor in an opera set in New Orleans. The libretto preserves the impact of the original Tennessee Williams play about the fragile Blanche DuBois (brilliantly portrayed by Renée Fleming) and the loutish Stanley Kowalski (sung with precision and a subtle sense of character by Rodney Gilfry). There are no weaknesses in the supporting cast and there are particularly fine performances by Elizabeth Futral and Anthony Dean Griffey. Previn, a world-class conductor, is of course an expert in his own music, and Kirk Browning has a convincing approach to the opera's visual elements. Highly recommended to anyone not allergic to modern opera. --Joe McLellan

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