Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Stacey Tappan as Stella Kowalski
20 Apr 2016

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

A review by James Sohre

Above: Stacey Tappan as Stella Kowalski

 

“Lavish” may not be quite the right word, for while Brad Dalton’s direction and scenery were mightily effective, they were daringly spare. The orchestra is placed upstage behind a simple platform that juts out toward the audience over the usual pit. This creates an immediacy that allows director Dalton to make every gesture connect. Every nuance of character relationship has a visceral impact.

On that playing space, designer Dalton has simply added a host of wooden straight back chairs, a kitchen table, a double bed, a trunk, and a few simple props. It is difficult, nay dangerous, to be this simple, but the risk paid off in spades. These homely set pieces were endlessly re-configured in all manner of interesting patterns by a mute “Greek chorus” of particularly attractive, buff and (many) shirtless young men.

This conceit was quite a brilliant theatrical effect. The young men represent Blanche’s multiple past partners, and they often accompany her, distract her, dog her, and define her. They are not omnipresent, but their appearances were very well-calculated, none more so than when they surrounded Blanche and Stanley as he raped her down center stage. Forming a semi-circular barricade with their backs to the audience, torsos bared, they pulsated down and up as one to suggest the mounting fervor of the sex act.

Streetcar8.pngMatthew Hansom (Stanley) and Ariana Strahl (Blanche)

The fluidity of the set piece placement also allowed for great variety in the blocking and the visual impact was heightened exponentially. It didn’t matter that the table was not always in the same place, or the bed, or the trunk, or the imagined doorways. The effect was as unsettled as Blanche’s emotional state. The usual two story set was deftly suggested by having Eunice simply stand on a chair and “yell down” from the second story when required. Mr. Dalton’s direction was a model of creativity and restraint.

The only final scenic element was a bare bulb hanging off right center. This is needed for the paper lantern to temporarily cover it, serving as a potent Tennessee Willams metaphor: hiding the truth under pretty trappings. Capitalizing on that basic “illumination,” David Lee Cuthbert conjured up a bewitching and moody lighting design that not only partnered beautifully with Mr. Dalton’s concept but also greatly magnified its impact. Mr. Cuthbert’s meticulous blending of area lighting, specials, gobo effects, and the judicious use of follow spots was really quite splendid.

Johann Stegmeir’s costume design was also well considered, especially for the men and secondary women. For Blanche, Mr. Stegmeir made her more glamorous than usual, in fact, was she too attractive? The “usual” design renditions of this classic script at least hint at decay, faded glory, and a slightly moldy New Orleans, its Old World allure fraying around the edges. With the minimalistic set elements, the one place this milieu might have been conjured was in the costumes. The attire was wonderfully constructed and carefully selected, but might have been more characterful.

In the pivotal role of Blanche DuBois, Ariana Strahl was a real star presence. This is arguably one of the most complex roles in the English language theatrical canon, and Ms. Strahl did not shrink from its mighty challenges. She sings it beautifully, with a ringing soprano possessed of considerable beauty, assured technique, even production throughout the range, and consummate musicianship. Every move she made was motivated by the drama, and ably conveyed the script as musicalized by Mr. Previn.

What Ariana does not embody just yet is the haunted quality that permeates her being, the barely suppressed emotional turmoil, and the encroaching dementia that informs her practiced deceptions. Yes, Blanche needs all of that, and then she must sing demanding music, too! Ms. Strahl is young, she is highly gifted and smart, attractive and empathetic, so there is no doubt she will grow into this part and fully discover its many facets. She deserves to have many more outings as Ms. DuBois.

Stacey Tappan was nigh unto perfection as Blanche’s simpler sister Stella Kowalski. Her silvery soprano was captivating and shimmering. Her easy delivery of the top register was matched by a well-focused tone, which found an exciting presence in the middle range where much of the ‘conversational’ vocal writing lives. She was wholly believable in her blind love and physical attraction to her husband Stanley.

While the two male leads sang powerfully and made impeccable vocal impressions, they were physically miscast. Opera San Jose has a wonderful roster of resident artists who serve effectively in a wide variety of roles all season long. However, this can result in the occasional odd match-up. The accomplished baritone Matthew Hanscomb has the perfect physique for the sympathetic role of Mitch, the lovable, slightly hangdog teddy bear. Unfortunately, Mitch is a tenor role. Stanley needs an animal allure, an effortless sexual appeal. While Mr. Hanscomb sang the part with power, insight, and flawless delivery, no matter how much he committed to suspending his own disbelief that he was a chick magnet, he couldn’t suspend mine.

Conversely, the rather lumpy good-boy Mitch was here impersonated by the handsome, trim, preppy tenor that is Kirk Dougherty. Again, a terrific vocalist, in total command of his considerable resources, showing off a total understanding of what he is singing, and pouring his heart out as he regales us with a honeyed, attractive lyric instrument. But when the script requires him to say he is out of shape, and that he weighs “190 pounds,” well Mr. Dougherty does not look as though he could tip that scale even soaking wet in several layers of winter clothing. Still, these two men are real company assets, and within their own physical realities, they give their all to the commendable ensemble effort.

Xavier Prado did double duty with a nicely sung Young Collector, and as a ghostly presence as Blanche’s young husband who killed himself. Cabiria Jacobsen was a brazen and appropriately shrewish Eunice Hubbell, and she clearly relished her bitchy pronouncements. Michael Boley was an amusing and firm-voiced Steve Hubbell, a perfect foil to Ms. Jacobsen’s domineering spouse. Teressa Foss was a fine presence as both the Old Relative and the stern Nurse. Silas Elash proved a solid Doctor and ably held his own in the crucial denouement.

In her poignant aria, Blanche urges “I want magic!” Conductor Ming Luke seemed to have answered her demand, and he made a significant case for Previn’s uneven score. Even at times it seems the writing is all effect and little substance, Maestro Ming paid that no never mind, and plumbed the score for all it was worth and occasionally, more. The absolute commitment to the idiomatic jazz licks is integral to the success of the sound and throughout, the accomplished orchestra responded with a reading of sensitive conviction and cumulative power. Exposed instrumental solos were exceptionally pleasing, especially the sinuous trombone phrases.

Ming Luke managed to make an unfamiliar piece accessible to a willing public, he forged a reading that had a logical dramatic/musical arc, and he commanded all his forces in a taught ensemble effort.

Opera San Jose’s impressive A Streetcar Named Desire should be required viewing for all who care about adventurous programming and first-class stagecraft.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Young Collector: Xavier Prado; Blanche DuBois: Ariana Strahl; Eunice Hubbell: Cabiria Jacobsen; Stella Kowalski: Stacey Tappan; Old Relative: Teressa Foss; Stanley Kowalski: Matthew Hanscom; Harold “Mitch” Mitchell: Kirk Dougherty; Steve Hubbell: Michael Boley; Nurse: Teressa Foss; Doctor: Silas Elash; Conductor: Ming Luke; Director: Brad Dalton; Set Design: Brad Dalton; Costume Design: Johann Stegmeir; Lighting Design: David Lee Cuthbert; Wig and Make-up Design: Vicky Martinez.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):