With its lusciously rich score and a cast of superb singers, Florida Grand Opera's "A Streetcar Named Desire" opened FGO's 80th anniversary season with a glorious return after the company not being able to produce a full-scale production in 18 months.
Ambitious on many levels, "Streetcar" is a daring and satisfying return to opera, the perfect crescendo for an audience wanting to see something challenging to bring them out of their COVID malaise.
Tennessee Williams' 1947 dramatic masterpiece has all the elements of operatic drama, most especially a tragic female lead in Blanche DuBois. She certainly has the backstory to rival the great Italian opera characters where their ill fate is determined by the course of their circumstances. The driving forces in their demise, where Blanche fits in just perfectly, includes loves lost and passions denied, obsessions with how they are viewed by the world albeit even their small inner circle, and the male figure or figures who seal their fate through condemnation and rejection.
No wonder the late modern composer Andre Previn chomped at the bit for the chance to give "Streetcar" the opera treatment. It happened in 1998 as a commission by the San Francisco Opera, but the Williams estate granted the OK if the lyrics remain as close to the play as possible.
It's tricky for sure, but the best suggestion is for the audience to just go with it. Yes, is it a hard sell to believe these Southern characters caught up in a steamy New Orleans summer are singing in musical motifs that seem too pristine for their lower-class laments.
Yet there's much to bask in all that is the sheer glory of the production. Most especially is Previn's almost cinematic, at times, film noirish score, dissonant notes alluding to New Orleans jazz.
Elizabeth Caballero as Blanche is a strong vocal actress who brings layers to her portrayal never relying on caricature, we watch the decline over three hours of the fading Southern belle on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The final scene is a credit to her investment in the role as she commands rapt attention as Blanche sings her mad fantasy of dying holding the hand of a "good looking ship's doctor with a small blonde mustache."
Librettist Phillip Littell does wonders with using Blanche's classic line to great operatic drama as she slowly drifts mentally away reminiscing how she's "always depended on the kindness of strangers."
Previn has given his ladies, including supporting character Stella some wonderful traditional arias. Stirringly sung in Act 1 by soprano Rebecca Krynski Cox is the "I can hardly stand it," the lyrics directly from Williams' script: "I can hardly stand it when he is away for a night . . . when he's away for a week I nearly go wild."
Krynski Cox, while never taking attention away from her co-stars, so formidably displayed a woman torn by the blood is thicker than water – her pitted against her sister by her brutish husband for whom she craves both sexually and as a protector.
Hadleigh Adams' buff Stanley Kowalski could use a little more brute. The climactic build up that is needed to create a dramatic turn of events leading into the final scenes was less than menacing in the hands of Adams. But in his defense, he stepped into the role only weeks before the opening after Steven Labrie, initially cast as Stanley, took a gig with touring quartet Il Divo.
Nicholas Huff's touching lyric tenor carried Harold "Mitch" Mitchell to sensitive heights as the momma's boy suitor to Blanche. His treatment of the tender "I'm Not a Boy" in Act 2 with Previn's score underneath of mostly stringed instruments accompaniment was impeccable.
Others in the cast were Charles Carlotta as the young man who almost falls prey to Blanche's desperation, Stephanie Doche as the rescuing upstairs neighbor Eunice, Amanda Olea as the Mexican flower seller who carries black roses and is a foreshadow to death, Thomas Ball as the doctor, Katherine Holobinko as the nurse, Erik Danielson as Pablo, and David Margulis as Steve Hubbell.
Jeffrey Marc Buchman clearly steered the vision of "Streetcar" both on the musical and stage direction side. In the program, Buchman's director's notes were an interesting deep dive into the characterizations and one that he deftly brought to the stage. Howard Svi Kaplan's costumes, especially Blanche's coquettish dresses, added to the multi layered portrayals.
One note about the challenges of this American classic play-turned-opera. Caballero said in an interview that she was concentrating with her vocal coach on having her enunciation be so crisp that even in the high ranges, the text would get across. And that she did, but even English opera has its limitations. A glitch on opening night with the supertitles at the beginning of Act II showed that even an American opera needs a translation, so to speak.
WHAT: Florida Grand Opera’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”
WHEN/WHERE: Continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25 at Ziff Ballet Opera House in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. 7:30 p.m. Also, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 5 at Au-Rene Theater in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
SAFETY PROTOCOLS: Masks and proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test or vaccination required.
INFORMATION AND TICKETS: (800) 741-1010; http://www.fgo.org