Review: Cleveland Opera Theater's "A Streetcar Named Desire"

By Daniel Hathaway

With characters like Stanley Kowalski and Blanche Dubois, its setting in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1940s, and its subplots of sensuality, delusion, and madness, Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire makes it a shoo-in for operatic treatment. Composer André Previn and librettist Philip Littell took that task on in 1995, and Cleveland Opera Theater chose their adaptation of Streetcar for its second show at the Masonic Performing Arts Center, mounting a production that was admirable for its ambition and impressive in its results.

When Streetcar opened on Broadway in December of 1947, Jessica Tandy and Marlon Brando appeared as Blanche and Stanley (Williams had written Blanche’s role with Tallulah Bankhead in mind). When the iconic film was made in 1951, Vivian Leigh played opposite Brando. And when Previn and Littell’s opera debuted in San Francisco in 1998-1999, Blanche was sung by Renée Fleming.

Those are tough acts to follow, but on Friday, December 4, Cleveland Opera Theater’s resident cast of singers generally did themselves proud in a production imaginatively staged by artistic director Scott Skiba on a spacious (two-room!) set by Valentine Kozlenko topped off with evocative projections by Brittany Morenda. Period costumes, including Stanley’s iconic wife-beater shirts, were designed by Esther Haberlen. A second performance will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 3:00 pm.

Additional context was delightfully provided by the Zydeco Café in the lobby that served up such Bourbon Street fare as Poor Boys, Seafood Gumbo and Bread Pudding before the show and during intermissions. And the folks at Masonic let you take food and drinks into the auditorium — a nice lagniappe.

Playing Blanche, COT’s executive director Andrea Anelli was high-strung and vulnerable, a fine contrast to Benjamin Czarnota’s virile, sometimes brutish Stanley. Rebecca Freshwater created a strong, unflappable Stella, and Timothy Culver a sympathetic, socially awkward “Mitch” (Howard Mitchell). Strong secondary roles were sung and acted by Sandra Ross (Eunice Hubbell), Lucia Leszczuk (Mexican Woman and Nurse), Devon Turchan (A Young Collector), Jerry Tucker (Steve Hubbell), Charles Spencer (Doctor), and Robert Masseria (Pablo Gonzales). Read the entire review at
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