Of all the works to set to opera Previn and his librettist picked themselves a lulu! Yet I did enjoy this albeit with some reservation. First of all, setting Tennessee Williams's gritty dialogue to music at all lightens the material considerably. Instead of watching reality inexorably closing in on faded beauty and full-time nymphomaniac feels more like a bedtime story than a Pulitzer Prize-winning tragedy. In this version we might really believe that Shep Hartley was coming to save her on his yacht. Previn's music is all over the map to accommodate the shifting moods of the dialogue, with Stravinsky-like smashes, sleazy street jazz riffs and, heaven help us, a pulsing narrative thruster that sounds like Bernard Herrmann driving Blanche to the Bates -- oops -- the Flamingo hotel.
Most of the story and lots of the original dialogue are still here although some of the dialogue is excised to make way for arias. The problem with the arias is that none of them have memorable melodies that make you remember. One clever dramatic touch works so well that one might wonder why Williams didn't think of it. The old woman selling "Flores para los muertos" (her only line in the play) in this version becomes the voice of Blanche's conscience. As Blanche pours out her fears, the old woman confirms Blanche's sins, catalogs them and condemns her to hell. It's a stunning moment of dramatic tension of which there should be more. Blanche and Mitch also have a very nice duet that is also filled with tension because we know what's coming. Also very effective is Stella's non-verbal rhapsody of pleasure after a night of sex with Stanley.
But Stanley is the biggest problem here. The singer is ten times the hunk Marlon Brando could ever hope to be (barechested, he stops the show) -- we instantly see the animal attraction that drew Stella to him. But none of his singing in that beautiful baritone-basso ever allows him to sound crude, despite some attempts at mispronunciation and bad grammar. He tells Blanche thst she probably considers him unrefined. But that voice! This Stanley is so handsome and sounds so damned seductive when he sings that his animus toward Blanche never really becomes clear nor rings true. At times he seems like a sensible, even sensitive husband.
This production was taped during its premiere run at the San Francisco Opera. The video and direction for television are as good as it gets but -- Bottom line: There's no fire in this "Desire." Consider this "Streetcar Lite." It's very entertaining for what it is, and it's very laudable for what it tries to be. But this streetcar never gets where it's going.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?