Ariana Strahl gets plenty of double takes when people find out she makes her living as an opera singer. After all, opera is not exactly known for its bevy of young folks snatching up tickets to see the works of composers with names such as Rossini, Bizet and Puccini.
But the 30-year-old soprano is making quite a name for herself in the opera world. Born in Germany and raised in Dallas, Strahl is making her Opera San Jose debut in composer André Previn’s adaptation of the classic Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which opens on Saturday, April 16th. Previn’s opera, directed by longtime Opera San Jose contributor Brad Dalton, saw its world premiere take place back in 1998, produced by the San Francisco Opera.
Strahl is singing the role of Blanche Dubois, the delusional Southern Belle who moves into her sister Stella’s cramped apartment, bringing with her a few bags and plenty of baggage. There she comes into contact with her sister’s gruff and crude husband Stanley. Secrets of Blanche’s past are revealed in humiliating ways, and a precipitous fall from grace is inevitable.
Strahl’s journey to a singing role as delicious as Blanche started like many singing journeys do – voice lessons in her early years, a young girl of 14. After a year of lessons, her teacher suggested she take an opera workshop that was intended for other high school students.
“It was something I never even thought of, but I gave it a shot, and I super loved it,” said Strahl. “That was kind of it.”
The “it” Strahl speaks of is a career first carved out from that initial opera moment. It did not take long for a passion to form, a passion built by an art form that is rooted as far back as the late 16th century.
What does Strahl love so much about opera? Try all of it.
“I think it’s everything at the same time. When you go to an opera, it’s an all-consuming experience,” said Strahl. “There are all these different skills happening, and I am so fascinated with the fact that, as an art form, it’s mainly unchanged.
“The fact that you can do this with your voice is amazing because it is unamplified, and whatever is going on is that person making those sounds. I can’t help but think, how is that even possible?”
Strahl is one of those individuals who people talk about in that context. How does she do that with her voice? How is that possible?
“I sort of think there is something very key about the idea of the human voice, which connects us in a different way than an instrument,” said Strahl. “I really like the way a voice can touch people in a way that other things can’t.”
Strahl chuckles while admitting that many are taken aback with the uniqueness of her career. But for her, it’s a golden opportunity to showcase the art form that she not only has chosen, but an art form that has chosen her.
“That reaction is normal for me now, and it’s interesting because people end up wanting to talk about it, randomly love it, or are just curious as to why I would do something like this,” said Strahl. “If people want to talk about it, that’s a really good thing.
“It doesn’t need to be every single person’s favorite thing in the world. And it’s a very high form of art, but it doesn’t have to be inaccessible, and I want to facilitate that.”
“A Streetcar Named Desire” has the benefit of being written by Williams, simply one of the greatest playwrights in the history of theatre. For Strahl, that translates beautifully into the world of opera, and has personally given her a buffet of choices while building her character through her voice.
“Some operas are based on historical people, yet most operas are fiction, but Blanche is a three-dimensional character,” said Strahl. “I don’t often get this profound depth of character, but I have it now because this opera is based on an amazing play.”
Strahl certainly acknowledges that there may be opera more in tune with the hardcore opera fan. But one of the great benefits of “Streetcar” is that it is perfect for someone who is attending their first, or someone attending their hundredth.
“This opera is modern, and not about kings and queens,” said Strahl. “It’s a really accessible first opera for people.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Opera San Jose presents “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Based on the play by Tennessee Williams
Composed by André Previn
Libretto by Philip Littell
Directed by Brad Dalton
Sung in English with English supertitles
Running Time: Two hours, 45 minutes with one intermission
April 16th – May 1st
The California Theatre
345 South First Street, San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $50 – $150
For tickets, call (408) 437-4450 or visit www.operasj.org