Barber: Vanessa [Hybrid SACD]

Barber: Vanessa [Hybrid SACD]

by Leonard Slatkin
     
 

Despite a successful premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958, an excellent recording shortly afterward, and even a Pulitzer Prize, Samuel Barber's Vanessa hasn't entered the standard repertoire. This isn't necessarily surprising -- a mere handful of operas written after World War II have become real staples -- but it is a shameSee more details below

Overview

Despite a successful premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1958, an excellent recording shortly afterward, and even a Pulitzer Prize, Samuel Barber's Vanessa hasn't entered the standard repertoire. This isn't necessarily surprising -- a mere handful of operas written after World War II have become real staples -- but it is a shame that Barber's lyrical score hasn't been more regularly heard and that more singers haven't clamored to perform these beautifully written roles. In this performance, recorded live for the BBC in 2003, Susan Graham gets the top billing (perhaps we can thank her star power for making this release possible), although she sings not the title role but the equally important one of Vanessa's niece Erika. The part fits her creamy mezzo like a glove, especially in the melancholy Act I aria, "Must the winter come so soon?" Just as impressive is soprano Christine Brewer as the multifaceted Vanessa. (Incidentally, this recording uses Barber's revised version of the score, which omits Vanessa's coloratura "skating" aria.) Rounding out the trio of principals, tenor William Burden's charismatic portrayal makes us fall for Anatol even if we don't trust him. (This is Rosenkavalier in reverse: The male lead seduces the ingénue first, then runs off and marries the matron.) Thanks to the careful delivery of these singers, barely a word of the English text is missed. Vanessa might not be entirely gripping as drama, but it has many gorgeous pages, especially in the last act, with its deeply emotive orchestral intermezzo and sublimely interweaving vocal quintet. Throughout the opera, Barber knits together beautiful melody and expert orchestration -- indebted to Puccini and Strauss, and perhaps also to Hollywood -- and the results are direct and expressive in the best tradition of Romantic melodrama.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Allen Schrott
Barber fans will welcome this new recording of "Vanessa," which joins an aging original-cast production from the 1950s, and a budget version on Naxos, as only the third recording made to date. It is an excellent performance that rivals the RCA original for artistic quality (and far surpasses it in clarity and richness of sound), and could easily be considered a first choice for those looking to acquaint themselves with Barber's unique approach to grand opera in English. Leonard Slatkin strikes an effective balance between expansiveness and naturalism that emphasizes Barber's lyrical conception without overly distorting the language, which is no mean feat. For the most part, the text is comprehensible without relying on the printed text. The cast is terrific, Christine Brewer (as Vanessa) and William Burden (as Anatol) in particular. Brewer's gorgeous soprano changes color with the seasons as the opera unfolds, lending a sense of journey and awakening to Vanessa. Burden rises admirably to the interpretive challenge of Anatol, who must be both charming and distasteful at the same time. His instant insinuation into Vanessa's household upon his arrival seems plausible. As Erika, Susan Graham sings with her usual polished and appealing tone, and delivers a wonderful "Must the winter come so soon," but she often falls into the trap of prioritizing purely vocal issues over linguistic ones, resulting in some misplaced syllabic accents that detract from the naturalness of her delivery. Neal Davies is charming as The Old Doctor, delivering his "Under the Willow Tree" with an infectious pleasure, and lending a warm, joyful element to the production in general.
Time Out New York - Marion Lignana Rosenberg
The liquid, bittersweet beauty of [Susan Graham's] "Must the Winter Come so Soon?" is heart stopping, and she is shattering in the opera's denouement.... Leonard Slatkin and the BBC band make a voluptuous brew of this gorgeously orchestrated opera.... Strongly recommended.

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Product Details

Release Date:
11/09/2004
Label:
Chandos
UPC:
0095115503225
catalogNumber:
5032
Rank:
187529

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Vanessa, opera, Op. 32  - Samuel Barber  - Gian Carlo Menotti  -  BBC Symphony Orchestra  -  BBC Singers  - Simon Birchall  - Christine Brewer  - Stephen Charlesworth  - Neal Davies  - Susan Graham  - Leonard Slatkin  - Catherine Wyn-Rogers  - William Burden  - Stephen Betteridge

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Album Credits

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