A major component of Kentucky Opera’s innovative plan, REPETOIRE REIMAGINED, is to showcase operas that are focused on the “American Experience.” Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire already sits proudly as one of the greatest American stage works. The play is set in the city of New Orleans, during a recognizable time period with iconic characters. Composer André Previn and librettist Phillip Littell have taken this gem and created a world, musically rich with color, which sticks very closely to Williams’ original text.
André Previn, who is 85 years young, is a renaissance man: a composer, conductor, jazz pianist, collaborative pianist, recording artist and film scorer. He has collaborated with artist from Doris Day to Anne-Sophie Mutter, performed as a pianist in jazz clubs and classical concert halls, conducted the world’s best orchestra as well as an extensive presence in many Hollywood studio. Pulling from his life and passions, Previn has written a lyrical, romantic and lush score for A Streetcar Named Desire that is quintessentially American. The story is intimate, sensual, and terrifying so you need music that supports, highlights and interprets these attributes. He pulls from the musical traditions of jazz and blues with instrumental licks reminiscent of those heard in any jazz club in New Orleans. Previn uses the sounds of the sax, trombone glissandos and a solo plucked bass for truly intimate moments that result in creating the necessary musical atmosphere. And when things get crazy on stage, the musical language, with its frantic rhythms, continue to reinforce the drama.
What makes A Streetcar Named Desire so appealing to audiences is that it speaks to the American experience: our experience. The music, setting, story, scenic elements and even the character’s names are all familiar. I have the distinct pleasure of conducting a lot of American opera. Usually, when preparing an opera by a European composer, I have to spend countless hours researching the musical language of a specific composer or the style of a specific period. Not to mention it is in a foreign tongue. There is such a difference between early and late Mozart operas as there is a distinct approach between Verdi’s Attila (early period), Il trovatore (middle period) and Otello (late period). With American opera the musical style is already in my body.
André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire is an American masterpiece. The sonic world that Previn has created is a luscious backdrop for Tennessee Williams’ play of dramatic naturalism.