Preview: Cleveland Opera Presents "A Streetcar Named Desire"

By Mike Telin

Steeped in desire, passion, and deceit, it’s no wonder that Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire eventually found its place on the opera stage. On Friday, December 4 at 7:30 pm in Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland Opera Theater will present the Ohio premiere of composer André Previn’s and librettist Philip Littell’s 1995 opera based on Williams’ iconic play. The production will be repeated on Sunday, December 6 at 3:00 pm. (Left, Previn conducting the L.A. Philharmonic in 1986).

COT’s artistic director Scott Skiba recalled his first experience with the work, which was premiered at San Francisco Opera in 1998. “I remember sitting in the Oberlin Conservatory library watching it on a LaserDisc,” he told me over breakfast at a popular Ohio City café. “At first I wasn’t sure what to think of it, but nevertheless I found it interesting.”

The idea of producing Streetcar has been in discussion at COT for a few years, but when a reduction of the orchestra score was completed, taking the number of players down from 70 to 40, it suddenly became realistic to mount a production. Conductor Domenico Boyagian will lead a cast that will feature Andrea Anelli as Blanche DuBois, Rebecca Freshwater and Benjamin Czarnota as Stella and Stanley Kowalski, Timothy Culver as Harold “Mitch” Miller, and Sandra Ross and Jerry Tucker as Eunice and Steve Hubbell.

“We’re thrilled to be producing Streetcar,” Skiba said. “As a stage director with a background as an actor and a dancer, theater is important to me, and since Cleveland is a strong theater town, people will at least be familiar with the play or the movie, if not both.” The three-act opera will be sung in English with English subtitles and has a running time of approximately 3½ hours including two intermissions.

Skiba pointed out that although Previn has provided some specific stage directions in the score, those may have been based on the set design that was used during the premiere. “In the play there are specific references to music that Previn didn’t carry through on in the opera. But what we have discovered is that the movie is not the play, and that the opera is not the play or the movie.”

In order to be true to the play and to the opera’s libretto, Skiba and the cast read them both and discussed the differences between them. “In many instances we’re highlighting those differences during the musical interludes that Previn has provided, so people who know the play will be able to find those details.” Read the article at
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