Opera San Jose Takes on
'A Streetcar Named Desire'

The company's latest production puts an interesting
spin on the Tenessee Williams classic.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS: A masterpiece on stage and in film 'A Streetcar Named Desire' works well as an opera, too.

Opera San Jose's newest production is a clever reimagining of the classic Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

The show opens with a bare set, sparsely populated by smoking, greasy men. Enter Blanche DuBois, who, after losing her family home, has come to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella Kowalski in a two room flophouse. Little does she know that Stella has become a slave to her crude and vicious husband, Stanley. As she settles into her new life she meets Mitch, one of Stanley's kinder, gentler friends. But the environment is toxic, the men manipulative and Blanche is quickly swept up into the mess. By the end of it all, Stanley's vicious and violent actions leave Blanche in a fugue state, teetering on mental collapse, and Stella even more of a captive.

The show is cast remarkably well, and features familiar San Jose Opera faces. Each of the characters' personalities are reflected and complemented by their different voices. Stella, played by Stacey Kappan, has a gorgeous voice, crystal clear but understated. Stanley Kowalski, played by Matthew Hanscom is cruel, crude and controlling with a bassy, commanding voice to match.

Kirk Dougherty's warm tenor fits adroitly with the sympathetic character of Mitch Mitchell. But perhaps the standout role is Ariana Strahl as Blanche. Her powerful but sharp voice is as delicate as it is glass-shattering. It is a high compliment to say that within minutes you have forgotten Brando, Leigh, Hunter and Malden's iconic film portrayals.

While A Streetcar Named Desire has an operatic structure, it feels far more informal in nature. This organization of what is basically a four person story, also allows the cast to flex more of their acting muscles—with rewarding results.

This is all under a score matched to the intense drama of the story. With hints of big band, jazz and two-step, the accompaniment is ripe with gorgeous melodies. In fact, the show's only conundrum is the discrepancy in how the sordid lives of the characters betray their mellifluous—at moments beautiful—harmonies. Where A Streetcar Named Desire experiments and deviates into a play-opera fusion is also where it shines the brightest, creating an innovative mix of southern twang and Opera pomp.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Thru May 1, $50-$150
California Theatre, San Jose

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