• BLANCHE DUBOIS:
    Jill Gardner
  • STANLEY KOWALSKI:
    Ryan McKinny
  • STELLA KOWALSKI:
    Stacey Tappan*
  • HAROLD MITCHELL:
    Richard Cox*
  • EUNICE HUBBELL:
    Victoria Livengood
  • STEVE HUBBELL:
    Kip Wilborn
  • CONDUCTOR:
    Mark Morash*
  • STAGE DIRECTOR:
    Brad Dalton*
  • *HOT Debut

Act I

The opera opens with a low deep note from the tuba followed by a wide dissonant chord heavy with trumpets. The chord is swiftly repeated. Some have likened the resulting sound to a distant train whistle. However, the effect of the repeated chord sets the location and atmosphere of the opera. It is jazz-like, languid and full of torpor. It is New Orleans sultriness with damp heat, jazzy riffs and plenty of booze. Once the repeated chord is established, it is used as a recurring motif The repeated chord is composed of blocks of triads that are modified harmonically as they recur throughout the opera. The repeated chord motif is woven into the overall orchestration and can be juxtaposed with additional effects such as solo clarinet and rippling brass. The motif is linked to the character of Blanche Dubois; her needs and emotional instability. Additional recurring motifs further amplify the unfolding action and serve as a unifying force. The action of the opera unfolds in two ways. The dialogue between the characters is delivered through continual recitative (sung dialogue). There are occasional arias where the main characters, with the exception of Stanley, are more expansive and reflective in their expression. The orchestra provides the other essential piece by portraying the state of mind of the characters as well as illustrating their actions. It is the storyteller and the primary vehicle for revealing the mental deterioration of Blanche Dubois. The action begins with Blanche’s arrival at her sister Stella’s apartment in New Orleans. She is seeking refuge. Using recitative Blanche sings that she was told “to take a streetcar named Desire then transfer to one called Cemeteries for six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.” The neighbor Eunice shows her into her sister’s apartment. Before Eunice can get too nosy Blanche tells her she wants to be left alone. It quickly becomes clear that all is not well. As the orchestra provides the underlying narrative we hear the desperation Blanche feels as she looks for a calming drink of alcohol. The chord motif is heard. She looks up into a mirror but turns away and doesn’t want to see herself. She tries to calm herself singing the words, “Keep hold… Keep hold of yourself, keep hold.” The orchestra reflects her unsteadiness. Blanche has come to her sister because she has lost her job and her ancestral home. Her mental state is uncertain and it is clear that she is hiding secrets about herself. She presents herself as a southern lady fallen on hard times trying to uphold high standards. She is upset by the shabby appearance of the area. Stella arrives home and the two sisters are happy to be together. We hear the chord motif as they embrace. Stella has a short aria, “I can hardly stand it,” which displays her sweet-tempered and mild nature. Blanche tells Stella how she felt abandoned when Stella left home, leaving her to deal with all the family’s problems. Using recitative she says, “You left! I stayed and struggled!” When family members died and the family home, Belle Reve, was lost, Blanche dealt with it all. A second motif is introduced after Blanche sings, “I…I…I took the blows on my face and my body. Death after death all of those deaths!” This 7 motif is played by jazz trumpets and a “sliding” trombone and consists of a chromatic two-note “wobble” supported by a chromatic run up and down a short interval. The composer indicated the musicians should “bend the pitch down,” to achieve a “vulgar” sound for this phrase. Stanley Kowalski, Stella’s husband, arrives home and there is instant animosity between Blanche and Stanley. The underlying orchestral music provides insight into Stanley’s character, indicating that he is brutal and controlling. In the ensuing recitative, Stanley blusters that Blanche is “putting on airs” and is lying about herself. In response to his questions Blanche reveals that she once was married but that her husband died. He accuses Blanche of not giving Stella her fair share of the family money. In addition to the antagonism between the two characters, there is also an underlying physical attraction. Blanche flirts with Stanley and asks him to button up the back of her dress. The chord motif accompanies her actions. Stanley reveals that Stella is expecting a baby. Stella takes Blanche out for the evening while Stanley has friends over to play poker. When they return Blanche meets Stanley’s friend Mitch. As they talk Blanche learns that Mitch once loved a girl who died. Blanche asks Mitch cover the bare light bulb in the room with a paper lantern to make it look prettier and diffuse the light. They turn on the radio and begin to dance a slow waltz. Stanley, who is now drunk, becomes very angry. He rips the radio from the wall and then hits Stella for complaining. The men pull Stanley away and Blanche takes Stella upstairs. Once Stanley sobers up he realizes Stella is not there. He is frantic and calls out her name. Stella cannot resist his entreaties and Stanley carries her to their apartment. In the morning Stella is consumed with thoughts of her night with Stanley. Blanche cannot comprehend her sister’s demeanor, believing that Stanley is little more than an animal. The two sing a duet that ends Act I. Blanche berates Stanley while Stella hums a sensuous jazzy tune, “Hmmm,” oblivious to her sister’s entreaties, “Stella? Stella?”

Act II

A brassy prelude featuring a trumpet and a tuba begins Act II. Stanley, who has been seeking information about Blanche’s past, asks her questions about a seedy hotel where a friend of his claims to have seen her. She denies the story. Blanche is waiting for Mitch and tells Stella she would like to marry him. Stella replies that she’s sure it will happen but that Blanche needs to stop drinking so much. After Stella leaves, Blanche is feeling a little sorry for herself as she drinks and sings the short aria (arietta), “Soft people have got to shimmer and glow.” The paperboy comes to the door and Blanche reveals her true self by trying to seduce him. The chord motif is heard in the background. But then she changes her mind and sends the paperboy on his way, simply kissing him at the door. Mitch and Blanche have their date and Mitch wants to get closer. But Blanche, obsessed with her age, won’t say how old she is and doesn’t want to be seen in bright light. Mitch reveals that his dying mother would like him to be settled. He sings a lyrical aria, “I’m not a boy, she says,” that establishes him as a caring, loving man. Blanche is spurred to tell Mitch something of her past. In an extended piece she relates that years earlier she was married to a young man she loved very much, but discovered that he was 8 struggling with homosexuality. When she told him he disgusted her, he ran from her and committed suicide. The orchestra reflects her words and we hear both the chromatic motif and a return of the waltz music from Act I. Now, however, the waltz music is terribly distorted and full of dissonance, presented as a ghastly caricature of its earlier form. In a duet that ends Act II, Mitch presses her to think they might help each other, that perhaps they are right for each other. However, Blanche is too caught up in her unhappy memories and can’t shake off the desolation. She sings that since that time there has been no light in the world.

Act III

The prelude to Act III is dark and mournful. There is a sense of tragic inevitability. Stella is preparing for Blanche’s birthday. Blanche is bathing before dinner and a date with Mitch. Stanley tells Stella that he has found out everything about Blanche’s sordid past. She was run out of Laurel, Mississippi for her immoral behavior. She was fired from her teaching job because she had seduced a student. Stella is upset but tries to defend Blanche. The three sit down to dinner and Stanley gives Blanche an envelope that he calls her birthday present. It is a one-way ticket back to Laurel, Mississippi. Mitch is late and Stanley tells Blanche that he won’t be coming to see her anymore. Mitch now knows everything about her and her lies. Blanche is so upset she must leave the room. Stella goes into premature labor and Stanley takes her to the hospital. Later that night Mitch knocks on the door. He is upset and demands true answers to his questions. How old is she? What does she look like in strong light? He wants to know what is real. She replies, “Real? Who wants real?” and sings the aria, “I Want Magic.” She tells Mitch that she is not truthful but tells things the way they ought to be. Things look so much better by candlelight or starlight. After Blanche’s aria, Mitch pulls her into the light and tells her he didn’t care that she was older but he cared about all the lies. A Mexican woman selling flowers comes to the door. She calls her wares “flowers for the dead.” Her words punctuate Blanche’s mind with images of death and remembered shame as the woman peddles her flowers. Blanche hears the woman’s words and begins to sing of the young soldiers who camped near Belle Rive and enjoyed her sexual favors. The distorted waltz theme is heard in the orchestra as Blanche’s jumbled mind associates the soldiers with her dead husband. She wants Mitch to marry her. He reacts by saying she is not even fit to meet his mother. Blanche shouts at him to leave. The terrible reality is impossible for Blanche to confront and she seeks refuge in illusion. Haunted by the Mexican flower-seller’s words, she dresses in a white nightgown and rhinestone tiara and sings “How about taking a swim,” to a group of imaginary admirers in arioso form (similar to recitative but more melodic). The arioso is repetitive and very chromatic with sudden changes in the rhythmic pattern. It represents an effective “mad scene.” In the midst of this fantasy, Stanley returns from the hospital. At first Blanche insults him but then becomes fearful. Stanley implies that this encounter was inevitable. He plays a brief cat-and-mouse game before overcoming Blanche and raping her. Musically, the rape scene is expressed through an orchestral Interlude. The 9 chord motif figures prominently as do the saxophones. Eventually the chord motif moves lower in pitch and slows, accented by high violin tones, as the scene ends. Stella has come home with her new baby. Blanche has completely succumbed to madness and is living in a fantasy world. Stella has contacted an asylum to take Blanche away. The men are playing poker. A distressed Stella helps Blanche pack her clothes. Blanche believes she is going on a cruise and will spend her days at the ocean, eventually dying and being laid to rest there. She sings the moving aria, “I can smell the sea air,” with an aura of transcendence. The doctor and nurse arrive. Blanche resists going with the nurse but yields to the doctor who treats her like a lady. She addresses the doctor, “Whoever you are, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” The orchestral music is dirge-like. As she walks out Blanche repeats the words “whoever you are” three times, accented by a trumpet, the sound trailing away. The signature chord motif returns to close the opera, bringing full circle to the tragedy.

~ from Virginia Opera

Andre Previn’s transformation of Tennessee Williams classic play. Set in New Orleans in the 1940s, Blanche DuBois arrives at the home of her sister, Stella, and husband, Stanley Kowalski after suffering the loss of her ancestral home and job. Skeptical of the story, Stanley grows infuriated by Blanche losing his wife’s birthright, and sets out to reveal the truth behind the circumstance. The conflict between the two unfolds with tragic and violent consequence.

HOT’s production stars Jill Gardner (Tosca 2013) as Blanche and Ryan McKinny (The Dutchman 2015) as Stanley. Mark Morash conducts.

 

Performance Schedule

  • January 27, Friday, 8:00pm
  • January 29, Sunday, 4:00pm
  • January 31, Tuesday, 7:00pm

All performances at the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Sung in English with English subtitles projected above the stage.

Approximately 3 hours with two intermissions

Tickets

Pricing

    Orchestra Level
  • A - $135
  • OR/OL - $90
  • B - $90
  • C - $63
  • D - $34
  • Seating Chart

    Balcony Level
  • A - $135
  • B - $90
  • C - $63
  • D - N/A

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Pre-Show Features

Pre-Performance Lanai Lecture:
  • Show Day
    at the Ward Lanai, Blaisdell Concert Hall
    1st lecture: 60 minutes before curtain
    2nd lecture: 30 minutes before curtain
In-Depth Preview Lectures:

January 18 / 10:00am / Honolulu Museum of Art