BWW Reviews: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Shines at Union Avenue Opera

BWW Reviews: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Shines at Union Avenue Opera

BWW Reviews: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Shines at Union Avenue OperaBWW Reviews: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE Shines at Union Avenue Opera

The Union Avenue Opera just gets better and better. This small company, now in its twentieth season, was founded by Scott Schoonover, the young music director of the Union Avenue Christian Church. I believe that he had never produced or directed an opera before, but he took that leap of faith and gave us this gem. He most clearly made the right decision. He is a gifted, inspired, indefatigable, and beloved gentleman who has made this company a true treasure to St. Louis and the region.

Performances are given in the nave of the church; this gives you the most intimate opera experience you're apt to find anywhere. Over the years the nave has been modified to become a true opera venue. (E.g. a few years ago a full orchestra pit was excavated!)

"A Streetcar Named Desire" opened this week and it epitomizes the impressive growth that has been so steadily visible year by year -- growth in sophistication, in production values, in overall quality -- and, of course in budget. "Streetcar" ranks at the very top of the many Union Avenue productions I've enjoyed.

Scenery by Kyra Bishop and lighting by Sean Savoie beautifully fulfill everything one might wish for this classic Williams drama. The rich, warm palette suffuses the Kowalskis' shabby apartment with New Orleans summer. A great gracefully fragmentary old sheer curtain separates the front room from the upstage bedroom, and adds to the dreamy, non-realistic feeling of this place. Late in the play, during Blanche's aria about dying at sea, we're awash in filtered aqua light--as if Blanche's descent had ended in some under-sea cavern--all soft blues and mauve shadows. A bit of Shakespeare crept into my mind: "Those are pearls that were her eyes . . ." Poor Blanche.

Costumer Teresa Doggett, who has dressed so many Union Avenue Opera productions, continues her long tradition of perfection.

And stage director Christopher Limber creates what to me is the best staging of any production I've seen at Union Avenue. A fine actor himself, he knows about acting, about developing and expressing a character, about how a scene is built, about "stage picture" -- and clearly he knows how to coach his actors into very fine performances. Every movement, every gesture so naturally and believably arises out of the dialogue. I have never seen a more moving embrace on stage than when Stanley and Stella cling to each other after he strikes her; it's real and honest and sexy and overflowing with need and passion--but also with tenderness and love.

And such voices! Lacy Sauter, as Blanche, and Katherine Giaquinto, as Stella, both have gorgeous clear lyric soprano voices. (These two ladies are so physically and vocally similar that one would swear they were actual sisters.) Miss Sauter, though near the beginning of her career, shows a wonderfully mature control and subtlety, and Miss Giaquinto beautifully captures all the sweetness that the composer has given to Stella's role; her serenely blissful vocalise after that reconciliatory night with Stanley is one of the high-points of the evening.

Baritone Bernardo Bermudez is very much at home in the role of Stanley. He's vocally strong, as well as proud, fit and comfortable in Stanley's iconic masculinity. It's a splendid job.

Tenor Anthony Wright Webb makes Mitch a lovely, decent man. His pure and smooth voice perfectly convey's Mitch's shy gentleness.

Often the difference between a good production and an outstanding one lies in the casting of the minor roles. Here the supporting singers all do excellent work. Johanna Nordhorn, as the neighbor Eunice, merits a special nod of praise.

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Steve Callahan A native Kansan I have a BA (Math and Theatre) and MA (Theatre). I was working on a PhD in Theatre when IBM sniffed my math background and lured me away with money enough to feed my (then two) children. Nevertheless I've been active in theatre all my life--having directed fifty-three productions (everything from opera in Poughkeepsie to Mrozek in Woodstock to musical melodrama in Germany) and I've acted in seventy others. Now that I'm retired I don't have that eight-to-five distraction and can focus a bit more. I've regularly reviewed theatre in St. Louis for KDHX since 1991 and am tickled now to also join BWW.