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Kentucky Opera Returns With Jazz-Infused 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Adelaide Boedecker (Stella Kowalski) and Julie Adams (Blanche DuBois). A Streetcar Named Desire. Merola Opera Program. Photography by Kristen Loken.  (1)
Kristen Loken
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The tale is familiar, though not the presentation.

"A Streetcar Named Desire," which begins Friday evening, closes the Kentucky Opera’s 2014-2015 Brown-Forman season.

It’s a sultry, emotionally charged and jazz-infused production that Jose Maria Condemi, stage director, and Joseph Mechavich, conductor, describe as a perfect fit for operatic interpretation

The production, they said, holds something for opera aficionados and newcomers alike.

Based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning play, Andre Previn and Phillip Littell’s adaptation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” tells the story of Blanche DuBois (Maria Kanyova), a fading Southern belle whose pretensions of decorum are a facade to mask her alcoholism and emotional depravity. After losing her home and teaching job, she moves into her sister’s (Anya Matanovic ) cramped French Quarter apartment. Her socially elitist attitude causes tension with her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley (Wes Mason)—which finally erupts into violence and madness.

Condemi and Mechavich discussed bringing the play—a three-act that premiered at the San Diego Opera—to the Kentucky Opera stage.

“The thing about opera, people always put it as this sort of elitist art form, but it’s a very accessible, visceral, kinetic, engaging—it’s raising you out of your seats, especially with this story,” Mechavich said.

He said the Kentucky Opera's production is "driven, in this piece and all we do at Kentucky Opera, by the text, by these amazing words.”

“Streetcar” is a distinctly American opera in both inspiration and execution, making it ideal for those interested in making this their first opera. Condemi visited New Orleans where the opera is set for inspiration in staging this production, which includes a scaled-down orchestra featuring instruments like saxophone and bass, lending to the feel of the area. Yet the production is built on classic elements of the genre, like gorgeous expanding arias, and will satisfy the most seasoned opera fans.

Still, those who have seen the iconic film, or even a stage production of the play, will notice a few differences.

“Whenever I have to stage something that is based on a pretty much mythological piece of theatre, like the Marlon Brando movie, there’s a lot of preconceived notions that people have that I cannot make disappear,” Condemi said.

“But the opera is a different experience, and in the end I have to create my own world, and when people come to see the show, they will see choices that they haven’t seen before.”

Performances of “A Streetcar Named Desire” are at 8 p.m. Friday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Brown Theatre.

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