Experience tells us that great plays don’t always make great operas. Indeed, precisely the inverse seems to hold true: first-rate operas are often born of second-rate source material. The melodramas of Belasco and Sardou, for instance, are barely remembered today, save as the inspiration for some of Puccini’s finest work. True, Verdi managed to put his inimitable stamp on three Shakespeare plays, but his achievement was the exception. Most of the time, good plays are best left unmolested by operatic metamorphosis. Even when the results turn out relatively successfully (Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet or Aribert Reimann’s Lear), a play, by its continued popularity alone, can haunt the opera it prompted. If the opera is itself mediocre, the comparison will be devastating.

Such is the case with André Previn’s operatic treatment of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which...

Introduce yourself to The New Criterion for the lowest price ever—and a receive an extra issue as thanks.
Popular Right Now