Photo Journal: Samuel Barber's Vanessa at New York City Opera

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: Samuel Barber's Vanessa at New York City Opera
Is Samuel Barber's opera Vanessa in fact a once-forgotten but "authentic American masterpiece," as the chief critic of The New York Times found? Or "a pretty-well-remembered minorpiece," as New York magazine's reviewer wrote?

In any case, the New York City Opera production that opened earlier this month (and of which we offer photos below) has certainly piqued interest. The Metropolitan Opera presented Vanessa's world premiere in 1958, with a cast headed by Eleanor Steber, to general praise; the European premiere at that summer's Salzburg Festival, however, got a severe drubbing from avant-garde-minded European critics and fell out of favor for many years. But in the past few years Kiri Te Kanawa used the work as a vehicle for her farewell to the opera stage, and with this production Vanessa has garnered attention at the center of America's classical music industry.

In the title role, soprano Lauren Flanigan "crafts a bewitching sound-portrait" (Newsday) with "singing [that] was vibrant, alluring and powerful" (Times) . As Vanessa's niece, the ill-fated Erika, Katharine Goeldner "sang with rich sound and touching vulnerability" (Times) and "crystal-clear enunciation" (Newsday). Tenor Ryan MacPherson "is a dashing Anatol — a cad, to be sure, but less oily than most, whose frailties seem human and not cartoonish" (Newsday).

The cast includes two brilliant veterans: baritone Richard Stilwell (who "remains an artist impossible to outclass," according to Newsday) as the Doctor, and mezzo Rosalind Elias, who sang Erika in the opera's world premiere nearly 50 years ago and is now "potent [and] riveting" (Newsday) as the Old Baroness.

In the pit, making her City Opera debut, is former Kansas City Symphony music director Anne Manson, who "leads the City Opera orchestra in a voluptuous, beautifully detailed reading of Barber's perfumed score" (Newsday), "approach[ing] Vanessa not like some neo-Romantic artifact but as a substantive, intelligent and worthy contemporary work" (Times).

There are two remaining performances of Vanessa at the New York State Theater: tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday (Nov. 17) at 1:30 p.m.; information and tickets are available at

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All photos by Carol Rosegg.

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