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'A Streetcar Named Desire' at Carnegie Hall

Renee Fleming in Streetar
Renee Fleming in Streetar

Renée Fleming, Susanna Phillips, Patrick Summers, Anthony Dean Griffey, Teddy Tahu Rhodes


New York City received its long awaited premiere of André Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” last night at Carnegie Hall with a semi-staged production. It made its world premiere in San Francisco back in 1998 staring American soprano Renée Fleming. Subsequently it has performed in San Diego, Washington, Los Angeles, and Austin, TX. And had its European premiere at the Opéra national du Rhin in Strasbourg, France. But it finally made its way to New York on March 14, 2013.

The action began even before the preverbal curtain came up. Our “curtain” was actually a clever and effective lighting design by Alan Adelman. Light played a paramount role throughout the piece. Not just as a space filler, but as a theme as well. Blanche retracts from it, Stanley refers to red lights while longing to be intimate with his wife again. The sets were sparse, but used smartly within the confines of the space.

Renée Fleming returned to the role of Blanche, a role which was specifically written for her (Ms. Fleming won a Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Solo since last New York saw her). Her Blanche is not an overly dramatic one, but rather a true, honest portrayal of woman quite simply on the brink of madness. Ms. Fleming holds tight to this truth without being campy or larger-than-life, playing her as just “one of those poor relations you’ve heard tell about.” Vocally she showed some wear, but this was not a deterrent. Her aria in the second act about her marriage to a gay man was sung brilliantly. In the third act, she sings of wanting to “give people magic” which is exactly what she gave that night. Her sister Stella was played by rising star soprano Susanna Phillips. Hers is a stunningly smooth voice that complimented and even competed with her co-star. Her best work came in the first act as she describes the torment of waiting for her man. Our Stanley, played by Teddy Tahu Rhodes, had the vocal ability, but lacked the dramatic wherewithal to fully portray the character of Stanley Kowalski. Anthony Dean Griffey added a freshness to the character of Mitch, the man who falls in and out of love with Blanche. His voice is as unique as a snowflake in that no one else sounds exactly like him. It’s a very American voice that lends itself perfectly to roles like these: timid, slightly shy, yet vocally bold and brash. Victoria Livengood stepped in on short notice to fill in for an ailing Jane Bunnell as Eunice, the upstairs neighbor. Ms. Livengood fit her role like a glove. Vocally warm and dramatically comforting, she was a delight to watch on stage.

Rounding our casting was a bevy of bare chested men that acted like a silent Greek chorus as Men of New Orleans (Brad Hiekes, Brendan Irving, Kevin Reed, Patrick Stoffer, and Brett Zubler). Used primarily to change sets and fill in scenes, this troop de Creole added to the interesting and sometimes powerful staging. Though underused during an unexciting rape scene.

The orchestra of St. Luke's played Mr. Previn’s music gorgeously under the baton of maestro Patrick Summers. He was a welcome sight for this Texan who hadn’t seen him at the podium in almost 3 years.

For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.

For more information about Renée Fleming, click here.

For more information about Susanna Phillips, click here.

For more information about Anthony Dean Griffey, click here.

For more information about The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, click here.