Casting Vanessa

Posted On by

As part of our Introducing… series we spoke to Casting Consultant Pål Christian Moe about finding the right singers for our new production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Vanessa.

‘We always start with the voice – they have to be able to sing the role. Then they have to have the suitability for the character, and the right sensibility for the piece’ says Pål Moe, who has been working with Glyndebourne to cast our productions for 14 years.

Vanessa is a naturalistic chamber piece with a very defined setting and characters’ says Moe, meaning that from the offset the casting team had a clear idea of the kinds of singers they wanted for the roles.

This taut psychological thriller centres around a trio of complex individuals – Vanessa, her niece Erika and Anatol, the son of Vanessa’s former lover.

‘Vanessa is a prima-donna role [famously Maria Callas was Barber’s first choice for the role in the original production]. You need a strong personality who can do eccentricity and a sort of haughtiness. She’s a character who’s on the borderline of being delusional’ says Moe.

Emma Bell playing the title role in Rodelinda at Glyndebourne.

Emma Bell in Rodelinda. Photo: Mike Hoban.

In Emma Bell the casting team has found a performer who can bring the complex emotional world of the character to life, ‘Emma is a really important British singer, with a lot of stage presence and has just the combination of qualities we were looking for’. Emma will be familiar to Glyndebourne audiences from her appearances in Rodelinda (1998), The Turn of the Screw (2007) and The Cunning Little Vixen (2012).

Although the opera bears the name of the glamourous Vanessa, in many ways her quiet, thoughtful niece Erika is the focus of story. ‘In a way Erika is the main character of this piece, that’s where the conflict is centred’ says Moe, ‘it’s Erika who experiences suffering and heartbreak’.

Taking on the role of Erika is Glyndebourne newcomer Virginie Verrez. ‘I heard Virginie sing when she was studying in New York, and had been looking for a role for her for a while’ says Moe, ‘as the role came up I happened to hear her sing in a concert version of Vanessa in Berlin. She’s perfect for the role. Virginie has this strength and can hold her own against Emma and Edgaras [Montvidas] as Vanessa and Anatol.’

For the mysterious Anatol, Pål Moe and the casting team were looking for someone who could convey both charm and cruelty; ‘At first Anatol is quite an ambiguous character, but by the end you realise that he’s really this high-class con artist, all he wants is the money and he destroys Erika along the way. For the role you need an attractive big lyric tenor, someone elegant, yet manipulative.’

Edgaras Montvidas as Lensky in Eugene Onegin at Glyndebourne Festival 2014.

Edgaras Montvidas as Lensky in Eugene Onegin at Festival 2014. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Cast as Anatol is Edgaras Montvidas, who previously played Lensky in Eugene Onegin (2014) and Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (2015). This role will be something of a departure from the roles Festival audiences are used to seeing him in, ‘the funny thing is that Edgaras has been very likeable in his two previous appearances, but here he has the opportunity to depict a darker character’.

There is a particular moment Moe is looking forward to seeing the performers bring to life on stage – ‘the New Year’s Eve ball scene where you see personal tragedy unfold against a background of public festivity.’

Vanessa is on stage at Festival 2018 from 5–26 August.

Main image: Virginie Verrez. Photo: Dario Acosta | Emma Bell as the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen, Festival 2012. Photo: Bill Cooper | Edgaras Montvidas in Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith