Sunday, March 20, 2005

Streetcar named Desire



A friend has reminded me that jazz also occupies the twentieth century, thus negating my “modern music is either irrelevant (academic) or trivial (pop)” argument.

The great jazz decades were 20’s through 40’s, with interesting work still going on in the 50’s and 60’s, but eventually jazz was replaced by rock and roll, and the period of great jazz ended.

There is a lot of music I love that was written in all parts of the twentieth century. The original impetus for modernism, the Ballet Russe, provided an environment that was still deeply rooted in audience involvement. Academia doesn’t completely take over until they all move to America to avoid Nazi Germany. If we are talking about the second half of the 20th century, my generalization holds. It’s all too complicated or too simple, too academic or too mindless. The college professors are writing for one another and not for us.

He also mentioned, “You're probably well aware that the T Williams Estate refused to let Previn & Co cut or alter the text, which kind of made making an opera out of the play pointless.” My problems with Streetcar were primarily with the music, though the acting was also inadequate. I would be more inclined to think that the presence of the film with Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando would do more to discourage making an opera of it than problems with the libretto. Where could you find an opera singer who could project the overwhelming animal magnetism of Brando, or the prissy nuts-ness of Leigh?

To write an opera of Streetcar I would have chosen Andre Previn, actually. He does seem perfect for the job. I expected a lot more than I got. With Renée Fleming as Blanche the entire project seemed made in heaven. So what went wrong? Dammit, it just doesn’t swing. You could do Streetcar as a history of jazz. Blanche can arrive accompanied by ragtime; Stanley and Stella can be accompanied by Dixieland; the huge scenes of conflict can be big band; and the strangers who take Blanche off to the asylum could be accompanied by Dave Brubeck. The whole play cries out for jazz.

But Weill is the only one who successfully converted jazz into musicals. And Bernstein, of course. Previn channeling Bernstein seemed ideal.

3 comments:

Christopher said...

Gahh!!! John Coltrane?!! Pharaoh Sanders?!! Miles Davis?!! Keith Jarrett?!! Ended???

While "classical" music was busy deconstructing into total pointlessness they were creating some of the most alive music on the planet.

Dr.B said...

Then you and my other critic agree. It's not my area of expertise, I admit. How far do I have to go down that road? My main point was that this is also in decline. Pharoah Sanders?

Christopher said...

Avant-guard Tenor Sax player. Played with Coltrane during his most radical period.

One of the best concerts I ever saw was one at SF State during lunch given by Pharoah Sanders and his quartet. There were probably 5 people in the audience and it was magical. He was all over the place.... sometimes playing the harmonium.... sometimes playing the tenor sax without blowing into it like a prepared piano or something.... very radical stuff and yet the whole time he seemed completly calm. Pure mastery.