Opera San Jose has really been outdoing itself this year, as it does every year. February’s Carmen was outstanding, and now they have taken a dip in the theatre-pond, bringing us Mr. Tennessee Williams. Did you know A Streetcar Named Desire was also an opera by André Previn? Well there was no way I was going to miss this. I was so excited to see this show, in a completely different way than I usually am.
As soon as you step into the California Theatre you can see this opera is going to be different. The curtain was already up and there were actors already on stage sitting on chairs! And not a velvet gown in sight. These were manly men, shirtless and dirty, drinking from bottles as they lounged in the chairs waiting for us to sit. Also, the orchestra was behind the stage. All of this was so different from anything I’d seen at the opera before, I was bouncing in my chair waiting for it to begin.
Now I’ll be honest. It had to grow on me. When Ariana Strahl as Blanche DuBois strolls onstage and starts singing my mind had a terribly difficult time connecting what I was seeing to what I was hearing. My heart fell just a tiny bit as I realized I might not enjoy it as much as I had anticipated. But the music was outstanding, it has the feel of a 1950s film score. And of course the story of Blanche, and Stanley, and STELLAAAAAAAAA is fantastic no matter what, so I sat and tried to enjoy the show as much as I could.
Fear not, it was already growing on me before the first intermission (there are two). And it wasn’t long before I realized Streetcar is actually your typical opera story: the male is somewhat of a… trying to come up with a family friendly adjective here… jerk. Yeah, let’s call him that. So your main male character is a big, fat, jerk, and the main female that the story revolves around is basically a whore. Sigh. And because Streetcar is no Comedy, we know what’s going to happen to the “whore” in the end.
If you’ve never seen or read Streetcar in any version before, note that this is not a show for young children. There is talk of homosexuality, suicide, “loose women”, domestic violence and a choreographed rape. The setting is a tough time in a tough neighborhood where men earn the money and the women do what they’re told. But it is also an amazing, touching story, and the entire production is done extremely well.
Stacey Tappan is a luscious Stella, Matthew Hanscom is as manly a Stanley as you can get, and I adored Kirk Dougherty as Mitch. But another standout for me was Cabiria Jacobsen as Eunice. She has a smaller role, but it was a great one.
The finale of the show at opening night got the standing ovation that it deserved. From the catchy, more “modern” music, to the 1950s era costumes, to our amazing resident opera singers, and even the sparse, perfect staging, this is an outstanding production. It did grow on me, and then it bloomed, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see the show. I think the show might be a very good introduction to opera newbies, but the music and voices are the usual perfection to please long-time opera fans as well. Perhaps even some English majors can get their noses out of their books and get out for a night to see a story really brought to life.
I’m so glad the show is going to be playing all the way through May 1. It is a great show to end the season with, while we look forward to next year which will include:
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
Puts & Campbell’s Silent Night
Puccini’s La bohème
Don’t miss this amazing modern opera at the California Theatre.