Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: A Streetcar Named Desire
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Rodney Gilfry, Elizabeth Futral, Anthony Dean Griffey, Judith Forst; San Francisco Opera Orchestra/André Previn
CATALOGUE NO: Ô20/21Õ 459 366-2
Tennessee Williams’s play lasts around four hours. The best that can be said of André Previn’s opera (recorded live at its San Francisco premiere last September) is that it comes in at well under three. That still leaves an awful lot of lines to get through, and for the most part Previn seems content just to let them pour out in a continuous parlando, interrupted only by the odd orchestral interlude and a couple of self-conscious would-be showstoppers for Blanche, the blowzy Southern belle with a booze problem and a shady past. It’s not just that Previn has nothing to add to the words; he has nothing to say in the interludes either: there’s a bit of stock scene-setting (bluesy, swoony, New Orleansy chords), otherwise just skittering strings and sub-Hindemithian fugato. Imagine what a Berg, a Britten or a Janácek would have made of the climactic ‘rape’ interlude; here it’s just a Keystone Kops-style chase routine.


Leading a strong cast, Renée Fleming brings to the role of Blanche all the husky lushness of the young Leontyne Price, plus each of the high notes Previn’s impersonal brand of second-hand Barber-shop Strauss demands; but when she sings her big number, ‘I want magic!’, I couldn’t agree more. That this lazy score, which could have been written at any time in the past 60 years (and would never have been staged but for its composer’s name), should be chosen by DG to launch its 20/21 new-music strand is laughable. Mark Pappenheim