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Vanessa

by Samuel Barber

 

 

 

 

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In a Chandos recording of Vanessa released in the United States on November 9, 2004, Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Singers, and a cast including Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, and William Burden.

"This superb new recording of Samuel Barber's first opera easily outshines previous versions - not just the seriously flawed one recently issued on Naxos, but even the original cast version recorded by RCA in 1958," writes Edward Greenfield for guardian.co.uk.

Chandos recording at amazon.com

Barber: Vanessa / Slatkin, Graham, Brewer, Burden, Chandos Records, arkivmusic.com

MP3, amazon.com

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Eleanor Steber, Nicolai Gedda, Rosalind Elias, Giorgio Tozzi, and Regina Resnik sing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos.  Available from amazon.com.  The recording can also be ordered from amazon.co.uk.

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Review of performance in Boston, Massachusetts, May 7, 2000

VANESSA. Opera. Music composed by Samuel Barber. Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti. Performed by the Boston Academy of Music at the Emerson Majestic Theatre in Boston, May 7, 2000, at 3:00 p.m. Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Conductor: Gil Rose. Partial list of cast: Ellen Chickering (Vanessa), Andrea Matthews (Erika), Marion Dry (The Old Baroness), Ray Bauwens (Anatol), Richard Conrad (The Old Doctor), Philip Lima (Nicholas, a Major Domo), and Daniel Lockwood (Head Footman/Pastor).

The Boston Academy of Music gave Samuel Barber's opera Vanessa, first performed in 1958, a very satisfying performace in which all members of the cast were good. Especially worth noting was the clear enunciation of the English-language text by all the singers. The opera was performed without surtitles, and none were needed. The singers communicated directly, and intelligibly, to the audience.

Ellen Chickering, who has been the star of many memorable performances by the Boston Academy of Music, was quite impressive as Vanessa. She has a voice of considerable size, that is quite pleasant, and very beautiful at times (as, for example, when she sang of her love for her niece Erika). Although the premise of the opera itself is somewhat implausible, she was always a believable character.

Andrea Matthews was very moving as Erika. Her character, with such a range of mixed feelings, is probably the most difficult in the opera to bring alive dramatically. One could understand why Maria Callas, who turned down the role of Vanessa in the 1950's, stated that the role of Erika was stronger. Matthews was quite successful, although the role may not have been ideally suited to her voice, and was much appreciated by the audience.

The other singers also maintained high standards. Ray Bauwens was quite ineresting and convincing as Anatol. His delivery of the text was especially clear. Richard Conrad, as the Doctor, sounded better than he has at some times in the past, and contributed substantially to the success of the performance. Marion Dry, as the old Baroness, was quite competent in what she had to sing, and had appropriate facial expressions throughout the opera. Philip Lima was a suitably grand Major Domo. Daniel Lockwood, a good-looking young man, was both the Head Footman and the Pastor. He had relatively little to sing, but did manage to look like two different people by wearing his hair differently in each role.

The orchestra played flawlessly and was well conducted by Gil Rose. The orchestra, which probably would not have fit in the relatively small orchestra pit of the Emerson Majestic, was on stage behind a screen. The singers could see the conductor on closed-circuit television sets. The arrangement was not an ideal one, since it damaged the dramatic illusion slightly, but it was no doubt preferable to reducing the orchestra size.

The Boston Academy of Music has maintained its usually high standard of performance. Barber was clearly a gifted composer of opera, and today we can appreciate Vanessa for what it is, and not criticize it for any lack of modernity or of American subject matter.

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Ellen Chickering, Andrea Matthews, Ray Bauwens, Marian Dry, Richard Conrad, Philip Lima, and conductor Gil Rose recorded Vanessa for Naxos in Kiev with the National Orchestra of the Ukraine June 2 through 9, 2002.  That Naxos recording of Vanessa with Ellen Chickering was released at amazon.co.uk on September 29, 2003, and at amazon.com on November 18, 2003.

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November 14, 2003

Tim Ashley has written an intereting article about Samuel Barber's opera Vanessa for guardian.co.uk.

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