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Vanessa

Samuel Barber 1910-1981

Opera in three acts
Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
First performance of 2nd edition March 13 März 1965, Metropolitan Opera, New York
A production from Malmö Opera, 1st performance in Frankfurt September 2 2012

Sung in English with German surtitles
ca. 2 hours 30 minutes, including 1 interval
an introductory talk, in German, begins in the upstairs foyer 30 minutes before every performance  

Vanessa was Samuel Barber's only big operatic success; but only after his partner of many years, the composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti, helped him. »An American grand opéra, at last!«, rejoiced the conductor of the world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Samuel Barber had found his style, working with occasional dissonances, but remaining, for the most part, tonal and lyrical.

Eloquent silence and self chosen blindness rule the story of two women – a house frozen in time, outside, eternal winter. Vanessa has been waiting for more than 20 years, cut off from the world, for her beloved Anatol to return. All the mirrors and paintings in the house are covered up. Vanessa, her niece Erika and her grandmother, the baroness, have received no guests for many years until, one day, Anatol announces that he is on his way. In great excitement, preparations are made for his arrival but his son, also called Anatol, arrives instead. Vanessa notices, too late, and falls in love with the spitting image of dead Anatol. But he falls in love with Erika and proposes to her, which she turns down. Vanessa marries Anatol. Erika, pregnant, tries to kill herself. The happy couple flee the timeless seclusion. Erika stays behind and, as Vanessa had done before her, sadly covers up all the mirrors and paintings.

Vanessa has been waiting for her lover Anatol for more than 20 years. She lives isolated from the outside world with her niece Erika and mother, the old baroness. All paintings and mirrors in the house have been covered up. Now, at last, Anatol's visit has been announced. Act 1 Vanessa is impatient. Erika tries to distract her by reading to her. The baroness goes to bed without speaking to Vanessa. Erika sings a sad song. A sleigh approaches. Vanessa sends Erika away, in order to greet the visitor alone. But when the door opens, she turns away. She describes her efforts to stay any change. Only if his love for her is unbroken can he see her and stay. When he finally speaks, Vanessa is horrified to discover that it is not her former lover. She flees. Erika enters. The stranger introduces himself as Anatol, the son of the late Anatol. He asks Erika not to turn him out but to share the wine that was set out for his father with him. Some weeks later Erika tells the Baroness of her night of passion with Anatol. He proposed marriage, but she is unconvinced of his feelings for her. In the eyes of her grandmother it is too late for such considerations, but Erika claims the right to wait for true love. She also has scruples about breaking her aunt's heart. Anatol and Vanessa return from skating. The doctor, an old family friend, arrives. Vanessa tells her niece that Anatol had professed his hopes to leave the house not as a guest, but as the master. Vanessa, overjoyed, goes to change for Sunday mass. Erika confronts Anatol. Evasive at first, he then renews his marriage proposal, but his idea of love does not satisfy her. Everyone goes to church except Erika, who resolves to not come between Anatol and her aunt.
Act 2 Vanessa's ball. Tipsy from champagne, the old doctor waxes lyrical about women and life then composes himself to announce Vanessa's engagement. Vanessa sends him to speak to Erika because she and the baroness refuse to attend the ball. Anatol assures her that Erika will appear, she promised him she would. Suddenly suspicious, Vanessa asks if there is something she ought to know. Anatol adjures her to forget and smile. The doctor returns, saying that Erika will join them soon. Vanessa decides that the engagement should be announced without delay. While the doctor makes his speech, Erika appears. When he mentions the engagement, she faints and falls down the stairs. She resolves that the child she is expecting must not be born. She goes out into the bitter cold. The baroness has heard steps in the snow and fears for Erika, but she cannot break her silence and call for help. Act 3 Vanessa, the baroness and doctor are waiting anxiously. Vanessa professes her love for Erika, whom she thinks of as a daughter, and bemoans her own ruined happiness. Erika has been found. The doctor tends to her, while Vanessa seeks comfort in Anatol's arms, who recounts how he found Erika half frozen in a ravine. When pressed by Vanessa he swears that Erika does not love him. The doctor says that Erika will recover and wishes to be alone with her grandmother. The baroness asks Erika about the child and, upon hearing that it is lost, leaves her without a word. Vanessa and Anatol are leaving to begin a new life in Paris. Vanessa says goodbye to Erika and wills the house to her. She asks whether it was because of Anatol that Erika did what she did. Erika says no. While Vanessa is distracted, Erika implores Anatol to forget about her and make her aunt happy. All bid their farewells. Erika stays behind and utters Anatol's name one last time. She has the mirrors and paintings covered and begins to wait.

(…) Die unvermeidliche Dreiecksgeschichte, die sich (…) kammerspielartig ergibt, ist unwahrscheinlich, entwickelt punktuell aber doch einen bewegenden Tiefgang und ist mit feinem Humor gewürzt. Katharina Thomas Inszenierung ist auf der linken Bühnenhälfte naturalistisch und unverkopft. Sie lohnt den Besuch. Die Musik ist hörenswert schön und vom Museumsorchester und dem Dirigenten Rasmus Baumann ohne Kitsch dargeboten, die Sänger können ihren Stimmen den Gefallen tun, sich von ihrer besten Seite zu zeigen, und die Regie besorgt ein anregendes Kammerspiel, ohne der Handlung störende Zusatzhirngespinste aufzupfropfen. (…)

Markus Kuhn, Frankfurter Neue Presse