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Merola Heroics Save Streetcar from Derailing

July 12, 2014

Merola Opera Program

Adelaide Boedecker (Stella Kowalski) and Julie Adams (Blanche DuBois) Photos by Kristen LokenTennesse Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire is a masterpiece of emotional and psychological complexity and illumination.

André Previn's opera version is none of that.

From the opening measures, startlingly reminiscent of the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov, Previn uses a sledgehammer to obliterate Williams' subtlety; the quirky, revealing surprises, and the heady mixture of pity and sympathy he engenders for Blanche DuBois. Previn's Blanche enters with and maintains fortissimi, as if giving voice to Stanley Kowalski after he drained his first six-pack.

Yes, there are some beautiful passages, especially those by Richard Strauss, and the third act is musically the least bad, but whatever was masked in the Opera House pit when Streetcar premiered there in 1998, is up front and center in the Everett Auditorium, extremely loud and incredibly close.

And yet, the Merola Opera Program, in presenting Streetcar did heroically well with a single exception: the selection of this deeply flawed work.

Credit conductor Mark Morash and the Opera Orchestra for holding in check as much as possible the work's massive orchestral miscalculation. With the young singers' excellent vocal effort and good diction, most of the time the text came through (assisted by supertitles). The reduced orchestration was still way too large: A 50-piece orchestra may fit contract requirements, but not the occasion.

Boedecker and Thomas Gunther (Stanley Kowalski)Jose Maria Condemi's direction was first-class; Steven C. Kemp's unit set and Kristi Johnson's costumes functioned well. But properly for a Merola presentation, above all it was the singers' triumph.

Julie Adams' three-hour-plus stand as Blanche was extraordinary. She sang beautifully and with stunning projection, an energized voice combined with affecting portrayal of the complex anti-heroine. Prevailing across the orchestra through three acts of voice-killing efforts, Adams preserved more than enough power and talent for her big finish at the end of the opera.

For a 26-year-old singer, a top winner in this year's Metropolitan Opera Council auditions, to portray the complex and tragic older woman was tough challenge, well met in every way.

Veteran audiences recall many golden moments of unforgettable Merolini debuts, such as Joyce diDonato's Cenerentola in Stern Grove or Ailyn Pérez's Anne Truelove in Yerba Buena Theater — Adams' Blanche goes right into that fans' honor roll of "I was there when ..."

Adelaide Boedecker's Stella and Thomas Gunther's Stanley Kowalski made a convincing couple, and each shone in their separate interactions with Blanche. While Gunther's acting task is straightforward, Boedecker was weighed and found not wanting in both the abused-but-unshakable relationship with Stanley and differently abused but always loving loyalty to sister Blanche.

Casey Candebat (Mitch Mitchell) and AdamsEliza Bonet as the upstairs neighbor Eunice, Casey Candebat as Mitch Mitchell — believably pathetic in Blanche's clutches — and Shirin Eskandani as the Mexican Woman all made notable contributions.

Mingjie Lei as the Young Collector, half-seduced and rejected by Blanche, showed understated comic talent, but the role didn't allow the Chinese tenor to show off his voice.

Coming up in the Merola season, with much more promising music: the Schwabacher Summer Concert, July 17 and 19 (the latter at a free outdoor presentation at Yerba Buena); Mozart's Don Giovanni on July 31 and Aug. 2.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].