Going ‘Mad’ for HOT’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’
It’s been literally a decade since I’ve seen an opera of any sort, unless one counts Phantom on Broadway. My last recollection of having an operatic experience was when I was on an eighth-grade field trip going to see a 2006 production of Tosca at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. But, boy was it a treat to return to the theatre for a splendid operatic production, a nice break from the touring Broadway shows and ballets I normally delight in seeing there.
HOT’s A Streetcar Named Desire remains a relatively faithful production of the Tennessee Williams Pulitzer-Prize winning play made famous by the 1951 movie starring screen legends Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. It follows the story of Blanche DuBois, played by celebrated opera guest artist Jill Gardner, who, after the loss of her family estate known as Belle Reve in Laurel Mississippi, travels to a small French Quartier in New Orleans to live with her sister Stella (Stacey Tappan). Upon arrival, Blanche remains baffled by the living quarters of her sister and the aggressive nature of her brother-in-law Stanley (Ryan McKinney). She nevertheless forces herself to deign to their lifestyle. Suspicions arise by Stanley who can’t seem to fathom how, despite having left her job as a teacher and inheritance from her family, she can afford to robe herself in such lavish, couture clothing. Had she actually received an inheritance but failed to cut her sister a share, Stanley wonders? He does not let his surmises dwindle and continues to badger her. From there, the story escalates into one with scenes imbued with rancor, banter, and tension. Audiences are left to wonder if she is all she seems, or if Stanley simply delights in playing mental tricks on her. (If this sounds familiar and you’ve never seen either the stage or film version, then you might recall Woody Allen’s reinterpretation of the plot in 2013’s Blue Jasmine.)
One of my favorite films, I was excited to see this opera version. Entirely sung with minimal instances of dialogue, the opera is an exhaustive feat to conquer. All actors pull their weight, effortlessly hitting every high and low note while both acting and emoting, ensuring that the story is told and characters are developed. McKinney and Tappan are both stand outs, but it is Gardner who delivers a powerhouse performance that calls for both vocal and physical endurance throughout the entire duration of the approximately two-and-a-half-hour show. She carries the show stalwartly, radiating valiant notes that permeate the theatre, all without a microphone. I give major credit to her for her endurance and heterogeneous performance.
In addition to the acting, the technical elements of the show impregnate it with such depth and capacity. Guest musical conductor Mark Morash, who serves as the Director of Musical Studies for the San Francisco Opera Center, furnishes the spectacle with an elegant, affective score that seats itself deeply rooted within each scene and the emotions of every character. I have never experience any live production’s score to be as cosmopolitan and tender as such. Furthermore, longtime HOT collaborating lighting designer Peter Dean Beck creates a design that perfectly enhances the aura of each scene. The lighting never becomes too bright nor too dark and perfectly connects itself to the happenings of each scene. Finally, the sumptuous costumes by Helen E. Rodgers appeal greatly to the eye. She does not simply dress Blanche in lavish dresses and Stella in modest ones for the sake of it; she does so to not only enhance the characters’ personalities, but to add color symbolism and depth to what each of the characters are going through. This is what I enjoy analyzing most about costumes.
Overall, HOT’s limited engagement of A Streetcar Named Desire is a fabulous production that compares to none other. With superb acting, an elegant score, precise lighting, and refined costumes, this is one opera you will regret missing. It opened to the public last night and will run for two more nights: January 29 and 31. Don’t miss out, and call to get you tickets now!