Opera Idaho Takes On A Modern Classic, Led By Sun Valley Conductor

Apr 6, 2018

Alasdair Neale is conducting his first opera with A Streetcar Named Desire.
Credit Sun Valley Summer Symphony

A Streetcar Named Desire, the play by Tennessee Williams, was made famous by the hit 1950s movie starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. Opera Idaho is presenting an operatic version this weekend in Boise. 

At the dress rehearsal, Alasdair Neale sits in the conductor’s chair preparing for a run-through. He’s fighting a cold, but focused on the task ahead.

"We are in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise," he said, scanning the old theater. "And we are looking at the set, which consists of Stella and Stanley Kowalski’s apartment, which is pretty basic."

Neale has a long career as a conductor, including 24 seasons as music director of Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He’s raised his baton in front of orchestras around the world, but said, "this is my first staged opera. The singers have come up to me on various occasions this week and said, 'I can’t believe you picked this one for your first opera.'"

Based on the Tennessee Williams play from 1947, the opera version is only 20 years old, with a complicated musical score by Andre Previn.

"I have to be there as a safety net for the singers, who have a Herculean feat of memorization," Neale said. "Imagine if you’re an actor and you’re memorizing all of the dialogue and stage movements from A Streetcar Named Desire. Now add to that immensely complicated pitches and rhythms to go with the words. And they have to memorize this all."

Stage hands prepare the Egyptian Theater for a dress rehearsal of A Streetcar Named Desire by Opera Idaho, May 2018.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

This would include lead soprano, Julie Adams, playing Blanche DuBois. Neale said "a lot of the weight of this opera falls on her shoulders. She’s on stage for, I would say, about 80 percent of the time. The opera charts her mental breakdown. So there’s the emotional stress that she has to bring to bear, as well as the vocal demands, which are not inconsiderable."

Opera Idaho presents the work on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.