When was the last time you saw an opera singer undress on stage?
Hunky Kiwi baritone Hadleigh Adams does just that twice — revealing rippling pecs, tight abs and bulging biceps — in Florida Grand Opera’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the company’s first full production since COVID-19 shut down arts venues and presenters nearly two years ago.
Cast as Stanley Kowalski, the role made famous in the movies by Marlon Brando, Adams’ smoldering good looks are only rivaled by his commanding baritone voice. You may want to bring your opera glasses to get a better look, but you’ll certainly have no trouble hearing him, especially as he belts out, “Stella!” (He’ll also be starring in the company’s upcoming LGBT-themed opera, “Fellow Travelers,” later this spring.)
This 1998 operatic adaptation from composer Andre Previn and librettist Phillip Littel sticks pretty closely to the familiar plot of Tennessee Williams’ classic 1947 play: a troubled young school teacher, Blanche DuBois, leaves small-town Mississippi to move in with her sister and brother-in-law in New Orleans. Tension erupts as she upends the lives of Stella and Stanley.
In addition to Adams, the production features sopranos Elizabeth Caballero as Blanche and Rebecca Krynski Cox as Stella. Caballero is a beloved regular on the Arsht stage, most recently having performed as Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” (2019) and Mimi in “La Boheme” (2018).
The chemistry between the three is indisputable as they effortlessly tackled a contemporary score infused with jazz and blues riffs and performed lustily by a large orchestra conducted by Gregory Buchalter; but, there is a fundamental disconnect between the gritty characters and nuanced story concocted by Williams and the grand operatic idiom that even this talented trio cannot transcend.
Soaring lines and vibrato actually seem to make a jerk like Stanley sound noble and sophisticated, even as Stella considers him to be “common.” Caballero and Krynski Cox both offer stunning moments, leaving audiences yearning for a more traditional aria to just luxuriate in their voices. Nicholas Huff, portraying Stanley’s friend and Blanche’s love interest, is the only cast member to inflect with a noticeable Southern twang, if such a thing was possible. “Streetcar” is accessible, primarily because it is sung in English and based on a familiar story, but it’s still opera.
Where Previn’s score is most successful is in establishing the orchestra as a “character” in its own right, an active voice in every piece of dialogue, punctuating those unforgettable lines from Williams. At times, his music is reminiscent of Copland and Bernstein, but a little more “Sondheim” might have been ultimately successful in transporting audiences to the Big Easy, along with the late composer’s skill with song lyrics.
Despite the obvious challenges with the material, FGO acquitted the work well and it was good to return to the Arsht Center for world-class music-making from singers and orchestra alike.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been to the Arsht Center, note that there has been major construction to the I-395 freeway around the Center (that will continue for the foreseeable future) and traffic on I-95 remains unpredictable and frustrating. Allow extra time to arrive. With construction in the area, parking is scarce, also, and the closest lot now charges $30 for six hours. Inflation has clearly not been confined to fuel and groceries. You’ll also want to remember to bring proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination to enter the facility.
Florida Grand Opera presents Andre Previn’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, Feb. 3 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $23.94 at BrowardCenter.org.
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