Last month, a friend invited me to see her teenager son starring as Stanley Kowalski in the seminal American play, A Streetcar Named Desire, in his Oakland School for the Arts production. Since I've seen this amazing young actor and his school mates' performance before, I did not have much trepidation on their behalves. Even so, it was still quite ambitious for high school actors and their teacher to tackle this overtly emotional operatic piece.
Yet, I was gladly satisfied and quite moved by their performance - a performance was quite vivid, natural, honest and moving. If here or there one wished for a bit more display of emotion or chemistry, it was not the fault of their young age - those "shortcomings" could be as easily encountered in a full-fledged professional troupe. It was simply the challenge to portray the incredibly emotional and unstable characters, the challenge many adult and more experienced actors had often than not failed to wrestle to the ground. I also truly appreciated the rather understated, less melodramatic portrayals, a relief from common fault often seen in a Tennessee Williams' play. Most impressive was that those actors matched each other well, particularly amongst the well-balanced central quartet, with the appropriate focus on Blanche.
The young actors had pledged not to watch the famous film so as not to ape the inimitable Marlo Brando and Vivian Leigh, et al., therefore, breathed their and their teacher's own readings into these roles. I was particularly startled and impressed, positively, by the young actress' reading of that famous line of Blanche: "I don't want realism. I want magic!"
This line could be read many ways and here, her exclamation was a desperate attempt to stay afloat and a protestation against her foreseen doom. That contrasted greatly with another "A Streetcar Named Desire" I saw on stage in 1998, an operatic adaptation by San Francisco Opera, composed by André Previn, to the libretto (a condensation of the play) by Philip Littell, starring the American star soprano, Renée Fleming.
Previn's music for this operatic Streetcar was a meandering train wreck and I was terribly bored by the obvious musical and dramatic gestures provided by the composer and his diva. Previn constructed "I want magic" as a concert diva showpiece and when golden-voiced but always dramatically noncommittal Fleming sang it, it sounded like a willful five-year-old girl telling her mommy that she didn't want to know that Santa Claus is not real, that fairies do not exist. Rather, she "wants magic". It had neither fragility, tragedy, grandeur, doubt or delusion, therefore, a dramatic dead spot, and emotionally false, became a parody of a self-conscious diva prancing, however gracefully, in front of a gilded mirror.
Below is a segment of Fleming performing "I want magic!" in a concert and however lovely she sounded, it was dramatically false and even coy, from this lovely singer:
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- Mark Rothko and "Red" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
- Funny Theater, Not Textbook - David Henry Hwang's Chinglish at Berkeley Repertory Theatre
- Princess Turandot
- High Romanticism - German Tenor Jonas Kaufmann's Recital in Berkeley
- Angelic Voice - Philippe Jaroussky at Hertz Hall, UC Berkele