One of 20th-century American theatre's best-known characters, the lost and yearning Blanche DuBois, of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, got her chance to sing earlier this year in Andre Previn's operatic retelling of the classic.
On PBS' "Great Performances" Dec. 30, the nation gets to see and hear what San Francisco Opera audiences experienced: American soprano Renee Fleming, as Blanche, sparring with baritone Rodney Gilfry as Stanley.
The three-hour presentation airs 8:30 PM-11:30 PM (ET) on PBS. Check local listings.
Previn conducts the opera, taped in September at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Streetcar also stars Elizabeth Futral as Stella and Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch. This is Previn's debut as an opera composer, although he has written songs ("Theme to 'The Valley of the Dolls'"), jazz pieces, film scores and orchestral music.
Previn's collaborator is librettist Philip Littell (the opera, The Dangerous Liaisons), although much of the work is reportedly drawn directly from the Williams text. Colin Graham directed the staging, Kirk Browning directed for television. A CD recording of the opera was released earlier this year, and Fleming also released a disc called "I Want Magic," the opera's major aria (and a famous moment) in the story of the mentally disintegrating Blanche.
It's been widely reported now that the famous "Stella!" howl (the play's signature moment, immortalized in the film starring Marlon Brando) is not sung. Composer Andre Previn and his collaborators said it would've gotten a laugh if sung, so it is now bellowed over a tumultuous orchestration.
In production notes, Previn said he resisted using New Orleans jazz to accent Blanche's world, set in the steamy Louisiana city.
The play opened on Broadway in the 1947-48 season.
-- By Kenneth Jones