André Previn wrote his operatic adaptation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1995 and premiered it in 1998, with a critical consensus of “What took so long?” Tennessee Williams’ play is already pitched at a melodramatic level, and set in the kind of Bayou heat that frazzles brains, that it seems a natural for a musical adaptation. Fortunately, too, Mr. Previn’s score combines modern music with New Orleans jazz, and produced a good thing: a modern opera with some tunes.
Stage directed by Omer Ben Seadia, and conceived as a collaboration of Opera Santa Barbara, the Merola Program and Kentucky Opera, OSB’s production by Jose Maria Condemi opens tonight for two performances. Gregory Gerbrandt plays Stanley Kowalski, the brutish “common” man played memorably by Marlon Brando in the film version. MicaÎla Oeste plays his wife, Stella. And stepping up to take on an iconic role, Beverly O’Regan Thiele sings the part of Blanche DuBois, the aging Southern Belle with a tenuous grasp on reality.
What is it about Portland that has made it such an incubator of great music? The scene is thriving, not just on a national stage (The Shins, Pink Martini) but on a local one, with a live scene that makes Santa Barbara’s look like an elementary school talent show and jumble sale. One reason, suggests Eric Stern, leader of the Vagabond Opera: money and time.
“Things are cheap,” he says. “Unlike California, the people have a lot of time to sit around and play music and play together. Portland is a great crossroads for that, it’s a musical laboratory.” Stern adds that the community is small — he attends school functions for his kid and runs into members of The Decemberists.
Here’s a secret about the Sydney Opera House: the famed space that was designed to host opera and built for optimum acoustic brilliance—on the photos, the larger of the two cones—has never been used for operas.
“After they completed it, ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company) decided that it would rather use the space for broadcasting and performing symphonies.” The voice telling me this is Jennifer McGregor, famed soprano whose career started at the Sydney Opera Company.