Brief Encounter

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: works by André Previn
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Futral, Nathan Gunn, Kim Josephson, Meredith Arwady, Robert Orth, Rebekah Camm, Adam Cioffari, Alicia Gianni, James J Kee, Jamie Barton, Faith Sherman; Houston Grand Opera Orchestra/Patrick Summer

Film composer sets cinema classic? That’s patronising. As with his first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, André Previn chooses a subject successful both on stage and screen, Noel Coward’s tale of middle-aged adultery, guilt and loss, but gives it a new and entirely operatic treatment. And, as with Streetcar, the result’s both appealing and frequently impressive – not least because Previn sets John Caird’s tautly adapted dialogue so well, and because his musical idiom is so unashamedly accessible. Somewhere between Puccini and Britten at their most intimate, it isn’t wildly original, but it’s entirely listenable, reserving cinematic sweep and power for moments like the express train’s suicidal temptation. If anything, Previn improves on the original by intensifying the passions simmering within Coward’s stiff-upper-lip protagonists, Laura and Alec. There’s little doubt here that the affair’s more than platonic, and Laura’s hapless husband becomes less of a cipher.
Patrick Summers conducts the premiere fluently, and the American cast sounds mostly at home as postwar Brits. Elizabeth Futral’s clear but well-shaded soprano suits Laura’s quietly anguished lyricism, while baritone Nathan Gunn, a younger, less world-weary Alec than Trevor Howard, projects sturdy charm throughout an almost tenorial range. Rebekah Camm makes a hilarious meal of chatterbox Dolly, Kim Josephson is a warmly ineffectual Fred, and Meredith Arwady booms as Myrtle the café waitress. No towering masterpiece, perhaps, but this holds the stage, and its audience, remarkably well. Michael Scott Rohan