André Previn's first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, which had its premiere in 1998 at the San Francisco Opera, made a splash, at least in part because of its stars, Renée Fleming and Nathan Gunn, and the fame of the play. For a contemporary opera it has done remarkably well, with a dozen international productions during its first decade. Its success led to this commission by the Houston Grand Opera for a work based on David Lean's 1945 film, Brief Encounter, which in turn was based on Noël Coward's play, Still Life. The libretto by John Caird is dramatically smart, if a little too talky. The music reflects Previn's experience in film scoring; it is pleasantly pictorial, relentlessly lyrical, and tends to stay in the background. Although it has some moments of emotional intensity the score never quite takes flight, and the text setting is undistinguished. The music proceeds for the most part at a moderate pace and dynamic level, using approximately the same tonal language throughout. This lack of differentiation is especially troubling in a dramatic piece that is almost all talk and little action, in which the main characters, for most of the opera, are talking about a single topic: their love, their agonizing guilt, and how they must renounce their relationship. In spite of the opera's weaknesses, we do come to care about the characters and their inevitable tragedy, so the opera is ultimately moving. The Houston Grand Opera gives the opera a splendid, visually stunning production, with all the stops pulled out, based on the photos in the booklet. They didn't stint on vocal or dramatic talent, either, with a cast that includes Elizabeth Futral, Nathan Gunn, Kim Josephson, Meredith Arwady, and Robert Orth, all experienced in contemporary American opera, who besides being fine singers are convincing, compelling actors. Futral and Gunn, who made vivid impressions as Stella and Stanley Kowalski in the premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire are strong again here, and their committed performances bring their characters to life. Previn fully exploits the depths of Meredith Arwady's voluminous baritonal contralto, and she and Robert Orth are effective as the comic secondary couple. Patrick Summers draws exemplary playing from the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. The sound is very good for a live recording, clean and warmly ambient.