Introducing... Vanessa

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This week our Introducing… series looks at Festival 2018’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Vanessa.

We caught up with director, Keith Warner, to ask him why he is so passionate about the opera.

Need to know

A heartbreaking story of love, loyalty and obsession, Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Vanessa is a 20th century masterpiece.

For 20 years Vanessa has waited in vain for the return of her lover, shutting herself away on her remote estate with only her mother and niece for company. But when her lover’s handsome young son Anatol arrives unexpectedly, she feels the stirrings of love once again.

Confronted with two potential conquests – the passionate, impulsive Vanessa and her thoughtful niece Erika – Anatol finds himself conflicted. His choices set in motion a story in which tragedy and joy are closely, and painfully, interwoven.

Anyone familiar with the operas of Puccini and Richard Strauss will find themselves at home in Samuel Barber’s lush, tune-filled world. This is Romantic opera reimagined for the 20th century.

Erika’s aria ‘Must the winter come so soon’, with its delicate woodwind solos, is one of Vanessa’s musical highlights – a piece whose gentle loveliness and quiet melancholy catches the spirit of this many-layered character, you can listen to an extract of the aria below.

Why this opera

Premiered in 1958 – the same year as Hitchcock’s VertigoVanessa is a work caught somewhere between operatic thriller and charged, Chekhovian domestic drama. A mysterious stranger, a glamorous older woman and an uncorrupted innocent all come together in a plot filled with tension and emotion, whose resolution is uncertain right up until the work’s final moments.

In Vanessa herself, the work has one of opera’s most unusual heroines – a mature woman whose many contradictions give her a rare depth and richness of character. A vehicle for many star sopranos over the years, it’s a role whose technical demands are equalled by its musical and dramatic rewards.

A songwriter at heart, best remembered for the fragile, bittersweet beauty of his Adagio for Strings, Barber brings this gift to his opera in tunes that swell and soar. The scope of opera gives new breadth to his musical imagination, supported by orchestral writing that conjures the chilly winter landscape of the opera’s “northern country” setting with crystalline woodwind and winds that rush and swoop through thick strings.

Cast and creative team

Emma Bell, seen here as Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen, will play Vanessa. Photo: Bill Cooper

Fulfilling the ambition of a lifetime, award-winning British director Keith Warner directs his first ever production of Vanessa – a show which also marks his much-anticipated Glyndebourne debut. He’s joined in the pit by young Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, a familiar face to Glyndebourne regulars from his work on Carmen, The Cunning Little Vixen and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez makes her Glyndebourne debut as Erika. Photo: © Dario Acosta

Glyndebourne favourite Emma Bell, praised most recently for her “ardent” Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen, makes her role debut as Vanessa. Making her Glyndebourne debut as Erika, Vanessa’s thoughtful, idealistic niece, is French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez. A former Metropolitan Opera Young Artist, Verrez is already making waves in America.

A passionate Lensky in 2014’s Eugene Onegin and a thrilling Belmonte in 2015’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas return to Glyndebourne as Anatol, the caddish young man who must choose between two women. Completing the cast are Rosalind Plowright as The Old Baroness, and Donnie Ray Albert as The Old Doctor.

Edgaras Montvidas, last seen in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail returns to Glyndebourne as Anatol. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Things to look out for

Look out for the dream-like set design which mirrors the introspection of the characters’ minds. Vanessa is set to be a stunning and dramatic production that reflects the complexity of society in the 1950s.

Dining package

Make your visit to Glyndebourne truly first-class by taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a fine dining experience on selected dates when you book to see both our new productions, Vanessa and Pelléas et Mélisande for only £365. Click here for more information.

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

Vanessa is supported by The Aisbitt Family