Previn's "Streetcar" is a rare hit among contemporary operas.
The opera (which uses a scrupulously faithful libretto by Philip Littell) has superbly crafted, full-blooded set pieces. There are luscious arias for Blanche, confrontations both savage and meltingly tender, and moody orchestral interludes evoking smoldering lusts. But just as important, Previn displays a confidence in the power of pure lyricism to carry raw emotion that has not been apparent in opera since Britten's day.
...It is certainly Previn's finest work and that [should] tempt you to ride this STREETCAR.
When Previn came out to bow ... he and Fleming seemed shy about sharing the enthusiastic applause. Yet they, and director Colin Graham and this stylish cast, had put onstage a work that will have to be considered in any appraisal of opera's grand march to the millennium.
There is an appropriate musical gravity, with a bluesy feel and a nervous undertone that serves the story well. Occasionally, the score recalls the onetime modernism of Stravinsky.
Fleming is nothing short of magnificent as Blanche - golden-age singing combined with dramatic gifts that the old-time singers never even tried for.
...it is skillful music, intelligent, responsive, sensitive, and atmospheric you can hear the heat rising from the pavement.
Where Previn's musicianship shows most clearly is in his writing for voices every word of the text was audible.
A Streetcar Named Desire, born at the end of the century, will remain one of the absolute masterpieces of the last fifty years.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama has been transformed by a splendid libretto by Phillip Littell....
"Streetcar" makes for wonderful lyric theater and can grip audiences with the added depth only music can provide.
What makes this Streetcar so worthwhile is the music.... The score ranges from angry dissonance to romantic lyricism. Streetcar is rich with color, by turns lush, frantic, heartbreaking, even funny.... Though the score has no outright jazz, there are moments of real jazziness: this is, after all, New Orleans. The clunky moments -- notably, when the nurse and doctor take Blanche away -- are offset by some fine ones. Though 20th century operas tend to be short on arias, Streetcar includes two showstoppers for Blanche.
The big question, of course, is whether a work as exquisitely, even as preciously wrought as Tennessee Williams's play needed, wanted or could be helped by the addition of music, beyond the mood music that the playwright himself asked for in his stage directions. In the orchestra, Previn maintains a respectful reticence behind the voices. At the same time the worrisome, ominous emotions it expresses convey a great deal of the violent, unspoken subtext. The score sounds genuinely contemporary...the play of instrumental colors is exciting; the overlay of blues and the pop idioms creates an overall sound of urban America. Theater-trained, dramatically astute composers [are] careful to shape the overall dynamics of their scores so that one feels and suffers the increasing entrapment of a genuinely tragic plot. Previn's vocalizing of pain is superb...in each instance, the sung music remains lucid, appropriate, even passionate.
A Streetcar Named Desire is the best new opera I have seen and heard since Britten's Death in Venice 25 years ago. In its remarkable faithfulness to the emotional tensions of the original, its richly textured, all-American score and its dedication to singable, intelligible vocal lines that are at once contemporary, pleasing to the ear and keenly in character, it marks a uniquely successful venture in the broad field of popular American music drama.
Two arias in Act III are showpieces that place Blanche squarely on the fringes of sanity. The first, "I want magic," already has been extracted as a concert aria, but it is the second aria, "I can smell the sea air," that exudes time-stopping rapture, recalling the farewell-to-life transcendence pervading Strauss' "Four Last Songs."
Previn leads the San Francisco Opera in what sounds like a definitive performance of his first, impressive plunge into the operatic art. May there be more.