Just a few days ago, we began the rehearsal process for Kentucky Opera’s much anticipated production of A Streetcar Named Desire composed by André Previn with the libretto by Philip Littell. This opera grabs the content of Tennessee Williams’s celebrated American play and adds a distinct and innovative musical framework to the theatrical experience. The story is heavy and the characters travel through profound emotions. Usually the musical framework provides a clear emotional path for the characters but this opera’s naturalistic construction allows for quite different and thrilling journey.
A Streetcar Named Desire is not constructed like a standard traditional opera where the musical structure (aria, recitative, ensemble, etc) dictates the overall dramatic and musical architecture. Of course the traditional elements of aria and ensemble do exist in this piece. But it is an opera where the physical staging must be included in order to find the true continuous flow of the drama. This embodies the idea of naturalism. As I have mentioned before, a composer’s job is to catch the heart beat of the character and, in turn, pace the pulse of the scene. Previn provides us a wealth of opportunities to investigate these heartbeats and pulses by using the orchestra to punctuate a characters line. The orchestral connective tissue, as well as the sonic foundation, beautifully supports each characters emotional transformation. At first glance, the piece is loose and free, as I noticed when preparing the piece and we found out in our musical rehearsals. But as we are finding out in the staging process, the only way to grasp and understand this freedom in construction is to allow the dramatic, physical and emotional choices of the individual artist to truly construct the moment, the phrase and the scene. The end result will be an impressive performance with each character shining true to the words and the music.
A Streetcar Named Desire, like any great opera, allows the union of music and drama to fit like a glove. Our rehearsal room has become a laboratory in which the piece, and its construction, allows us to approach each moment with a clear sense of intent. The process is unlike most but already it is result in something VERY special.