Plays of Tennessee Williams as opera: An analysis of the elements of Williams's dramatic style in Lee Hoiby's Summer and Smoke and André Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire.
Description: There are two major, well-known operas based on plays of Tennessee Williams. He refused many times throughout his life to give permission for his play, A Streetcar Named Desire, to be set as an opera. It was not until the 1960s that he granted permission for Lee Hoiby to choose any of his plays as a basis for a new opera. Hoiby chose Summer and Smoke, a play which was written at approximately the same time as Streetcar. Lanford Wilson created the libretto for the opera which was given its premier in 1971 by the St. Paul Opera Association. In 1994 representatives of the Williams estate granted permission to the San Francisco Opera to commission an opera based on A Streetcar Named Desire. With a libretto by Philip Littell, the opera was composed by André Previn and given its premier in 1998. These two plays share common themes, character types, character relationships, and literary symbols due in part to the autobiographical nature of Williams's writings. The plays exhibit a cinematic nature and possess common dramatic elements such as the symbolic use of sets, props, and musical leitmotifs as a result of his attempts to create a new "plastic" style of theatre. The purpose of this thesis is to examine how each composer has captured the essence of Williams's dramatic style in these well known plays while dealing with stylistic elements that by nature could interfere in operatic composition. A brief biography of Williams is included to show the familial basis of his character types. Illustrations of his style serve as the basis for a comparison of the librettos to the plays. The musical analysis focuses on the composers' choices in dealing with Williams's poetic southern language, use of music, cinematic techniques, and complex characterizations.
Date: December 2003
Creator: Lee, Kenneth Oneal
Partner: UNT Libraries