November 26, 2007


Should Barber's 'Vanessa' be a classic? Maybe not (David Patrick Stearns, 11/25/07, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The world can't consciously will something into classic status, but in the case of the opera Vanessa, it's not for lack of trying.

The increasingly popular piece by West Chester-born, Curtis Institute-trained Samuel Barber promised to forge a permanent place in the opera house for the esteemed composer of Adagio for Strings following its hugely successful 1958 New York premiere.

In an age of rampant experimentalism, Barber was one of the few living composers the public could love. And though his brand of conservatism was thought to be increasingly irrelevant during his later years in the 1970s, Vanessa approaches its 40th anniversary Jan. 15 as the godfather of recent neo-tonal operas by Jake Heggie and Tobias Picker. It has many articulate, well-placed champions, among them opera star Susan Graham and conductor Leonard Slatkin, who dominate the latest and best of the opera's four recordings.

The New York City Opera's production closed last Saturday to a full, loudly cheering house - and rightly so. The handsome production starred Lauren Flanigan at her vocal and theatrical best, while conductor Anne Manson made every moment arrive with unmistakably clear intentions. The final scene reestablished itself as some of the most beautiful music ever contained by an American opera. So the checklist adds up to "classic." Yet Vanessa, time and again, hits a glass ceiling that, to me, will forever keep it from the operatic Parnassus.

Neglected Samuel Barber Opera Sees the Light Again (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 11/06/07, NY Times)
Once in a while an opera company presents a new production that prompts a re-evaluation of a misunderstood work. That’s what happened on Sunday when New York City Opera unveiled its staging of Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa.”

Introduced in 1958 by the Metropolitan Opera, “Vanessa” received a generally favorable reaction in New York and won Barber the Pulitzer Prize for music. But when it was presented at the Salzburg Festival that summer, a backlash started from contemporary-

music hard-liners, who dismissed Barber as a hopeless conservative, shameless neo-Romantic and lushly tonal panderer, unlike the tough-guy modernists who claimed the intellectual high ground during that polemical period.

"Conservative" is an epithet to the intellectuals, a recommendation to Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2007 6:51 AM
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