Everything you need to know about Samuel Barber's Vanessa, which is available to watch for free as part of Glyndebourne Open House from Sunday 14 June.
Vanessa will be available to watch for free on our YouTube channel from Sunday 14 June as part of Glyndebourne Open House.
A brief introduction
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.
Premiered in 1958 – the same year as Hitchcock’s Vertigo – Vanessa 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
Award-winning British director Keith Warner fulfilled the ambition of a lifetime to direct his first ever production of Vanessa – a show which also marked his Glyndebourne debut. In the pit is the 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.
Glyndebourne favourite Emma Bell, was praised for her ‘compelling performance’ in the title role. Vanessa. Playing Erika – Vanessa’s thoughtful, idealistic niece – is French mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez, in her Glyndebourne debut.
A passionate Lensky in 2014’s Eugene Onegin and a thrilling Belmonte in 2015’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, Lithuanian tenor Edgaras Montvidas returned 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.