Renée Fleming returns to LA Opera (May 18, 21, 24) as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
What is it about Streetcar and the role of Blanche DuBois that you ﬁnd so appealing?
A lot of opera heroines are either glorious victims or virtuous saints. To be able to play somebody as complex as Blanche DuBois, even for an actress in the theater, is a real gift. We so rarely have characters like that in opera! I feel that the plays of Tennessee Williams are operas. All of them have a sort of melodrama that seems musical.
Then what does music bring to this?
What does the music bring to Otello? It enhances the story, creates drama and tension, and when there’s a moment of repose, the music ﬁlls in the blanks because music is not concrete – it’s completely abstract, so it adds another dimension. And André’s musical language is perfect for this story. He has the jazz element in his background and the late Romantic European tradition, too.
André Previn wrote the score of Streetcar with you in mind. Did you have any special requests for him?
I asked André if I could I have a set piece or two that I could perform in concert. Well, he gave me six! That was a lot. Several of them are really stunning and they work very well. I’ve been singing them ever since—“I want magic” and “Sea air” are pieces people absolutely love. There’s another one I’ve been singing lately—“Soft people.” It’s short, but it’s so beautiful.
Do you have a favorite spot in the opera?
The powerful scene at the end of Act Two, the duet with Mitch. These two people come together and decide to offer each other some comfort. And her explanation of why she’s in trouble and her confession about what happened with her young husband is incredibly powerful when it’s set to music. That’s such a wonderful scene!
What was it like working with André Previn during the rehearsal process?
The wonderful thing about André is that he’s so experienced in music and art in so many ways. He had no qualms, for instance, about cutting the orchestration so that we could be fully heard and understood – that was no problem for him. Other composers, particularly those who are new to opera, don’t want to give up any notes or any orchestra colors. André would say, “I couldn’t hear that word, so I’m cutting ﬁve instruments from the orchestration.” So pretty soon, we had a sparse and nimble orchestration that always lets the singers shine through.
Interviews with André Previn and Renée Fleming by Jack Zimmerman for Lyric Opera News, originally published in May 2013. Reprinted with permission.