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    Elizabeth Batton
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    There is no more iconic play in American theater than Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and maybe no more famous a line than Marlon Brando's signature wail, "Stelllaaaa!" This weekend Kentucky Opera brings the operatic version of this to life, presenting a rare opportunity to enjoy a familiar story and an opera sung in English. 

    Williams' play premiered in 1947 and was quickly adapted into the movie starring Brando as Stanley Kowalski (he originated the role on Broadway). Yet another adaptation was commissioned by San Francisco Opera's Lofti Mansouri who served as General Director from 1988 to 2001. Composer André Previn accepted the challenge to write it when both Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim turned the job down. It wasn't until 1998 that Streetcar premiered at the San Francisco Opera, starring Renée Fleming as Blanche.

    In KO's production, native Louisvillian, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton, will play the supporting role of Eunice. Batton graduated from the Youth Performing Arts School before going on to study vocal performance at Milliken University and the Manhattan School of Music. She found her calling at around age four, when she saw her first stage musical, Cabaret. "I remember thinking, this is the greatest thing I've ever seen! This is what I want to do. I bought the record after the performance and I memorized all the lyrics. I had no clue what any of them meant. I was singing all kinds of inappropriate things!" Batton continued to show that same kind of precociousness when she was fresh out of college and living in New York. That's when she decided to compete in the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Awards.

    "At the time I was desperate for money and I thought maybe I could win a hundred dollars in the first round.... I was working three or four jobs and auditioning. I was lucky and I won the whole thing! And from then on, my managers could get me any audition I wanted." 

    Batton may see it as a stroke of luck, but she has the kind of career and reviews that can only be the result of talent and a lot of hard work. In the title role of New York Opera's Carmen, Batton's performance was praised in Opera News as “...a vocal powerhouse of dark, burnished bronze, seamless throughout its range, a steady flow of gorgeous sound.” 

    Batton's supporting role in Streetcar as the upstairs neighbor Eunice may not have the same glamor as the seductress Carmen, but she found a way to connect with this character. "She's a caregiver, a nosy neighbor, she's extremely fiery, very honest and very hot-tempered. She reminded me a lot of my Aunt Nora, who was just this tough old lady who lived down on the farm. She was a chain smoker and she cursed like a sailor, but she also took care of her ailing father and her husband and her daughter in her home. She took care of her emotions and mind by telling everyone what she thought when she thought it.... She scared me as a little girl but at the same time I really admired her."

    In preparing for the role, which she will sing for the first time, Batton had to find her way through Previn's music and it's moments of dissonance. "I pick out things within the orchestra to make a melody out of in my head.... It's a very mezzo role. There are a lot of little interjections, but she does have some really nice lines. It shows a nice full range of voice."

    In addition to a busy performance schedule, Batton owns the Louisville Voice Lessons studio with her husband, tenor Garrett Sorenson. Juggling teaching, two singing careers, and raising two young children is a feat of timing and dedication, one that Batton says keeps her incredibly busy, but very grateful for a base in Louisville where she has friends and family. "It's really nice to work with Kentucky Opera. It's an excellent company and it's home."

    Get tickets

    Performances of A Streetcar Named Desire are Friday, February 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 15 at 2 p.m at the Brown Theatre. Contact the Kentucky Center Box Office for tickets (starting at $34). 

    Kentucky Opera's A Streetcar Named Desire, composed by André Previn with a libretto by Phillip Littell, stars Maria Kanyova as Blanche Dubois, Wes Mason as Stanley, Anya Matanovic as Stella, Marco Cammarota as Mitch, and Batton as Eunice. This production is directed by José Maria Condemi and conducted by Joseph Mechavich.

    Renée Fleming as Blanche with Louisville native Elizabeth Futral as Stella in a scene from San Francisco Opera's Streetcar in 1998:

    Selena Frye's picture

    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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