First, there was the Tennessee Williams play. Then there was the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando. Then there was the hilarious 1992 spoof of the play - as a musical - by "The Simpsons" TV series. Then there was the opera by Andre Previn which was based on the play.
In January, the concert version of that opera will receive its world premiere when the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) presents its version of Previn's
"A Streetcar Named Desire."
"[Streetcar] has always been an opera," Previn said at a press conference in 1998 when the opera had its debut in San Francisco. "It's just that the music was missing. It's really the most poetically beautiful play an American has ever produced."
Previn, who celebrated his 70th birthday last year, has led a life that took him from the Jewish ghetto of Berlin to Hollywood where he composed music for Lassie movies to his Academy award-winning scores for such films as "My Fair Lady." He has made numerous recordings as both a conductor and performer, easily sliding between jazz and classical works. From 1976 to 1984, Previn was the music director of the PSO and returns there to conduct these performances of his opera.
"I had written a lot of vocal music for quite a few of the really good sopranos around now," Previn recently told Vanity Fair magazine, "but never contemplated writing an opera. I didn't have to contemplate much. It was a move of some temerity on my part. I decided I could not live through someone else doing it."
During his life, Tennessee Williams refused numerous requests to authorize an operatic version of the play. When San Francisco Opera general manager Lofti Mansouri gained the rights to the play, the only stipulation was that librettist Philip Litwell retain as much of the original text as possible.
"When Philip submitted something, it didn't want much changing," Previn said. "I work very fast and he, frankly, works slowly. But there were no artistic problems."
Previn and Litwell kept the focus of the story on the tragic Blanche Dubois as opposed to the 1951 Elia Kazan film which brought Stanley Kowalski (as performed by Marlon Brando) to the forefront of the story.
"I looked at the film before I wrote note one and not since," Previn said, "because it's dangerous. The emphasis got switched when everybody's consciousness became suffused with Brando's performance. The play is really about her and she has an absolutely enormous part in the opera."
Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans shortly after World War Two, "Streetcar" tells the story of the neurotic Blanche's need to find a place for herself in the world. She shows up at her sister Stella's door without a place to live and insinuates herself into the relationship between Stella and her husband Stanley. Since the classic Brando film version, several others have found their way to the small screen, one production starring Ann-Margaret and Treat Williams and a second with Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin. The San Francisco Opera production of Previn's opera was broadcast in 1998 on PBS starring Renee Fleming and Rodney Gilfrey.
The performances at the PSO feature Sheryl Woods as Blanche, David Okerlund as Stanley and Peggy Kriha Dye as Stella. The concert staging is by J. Michael Deegan and will be performed on January 12, 14 and 16.