Leonard Slatkin previews Samuel Barber’s Vanessa – 15 November, Barbican Hall and BBC Radio 3

Written by: Leonard Slatkin

I think Vanessa is an extremely important work in American musical history. Until it appeared, there really had been no other opera by a major composer in the States who had achieved anything resembling international status. Yes there was Virgil Thompson and Gershwin and Copland, but they did not really produce the great American Opera that everyone hoped for.

Barber had all the right credentials. He was well known and admired in particular for his songs. He had written a couple of one-act operas and had the lyric and dramatic gifts to bring this off. The premiere of Vanessa was a success and it is hard to understand why this work has not become part of the international operatic repertoire. I believe our performance is the first professional one in the UK.

Of course the libretto (by Gian Carlo Menotti) is overwrought, but not anymore so than the majority of works in the romantic canon. Vanessa has great arias and the incredible quintet in the last act. Vanessa is almost Verdian except the action is mostly static. Hopefully this performance and subsequent recording for Chandos will help rescue the work from its life on the shelf.

  • Barber’s Vanessa – Saturday, 15 November at 7.30, Barbican Hall (Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3)
  • Cast includes Christine Brewer, Susan Graham and William Burden; Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBCSO and BBC Singers
  • Barbican Centre (Box Office: 0845 120 7500)

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