Notes and Editorial Reviews
"...this new version is doubly welcome, not only as the first to use Barber’s revision, but to bring back an important work... The best-known moments from the opera all make their mark... The sound quality is clear, the balance between voices and orchestra excellent. Anyone who is attracted to American verismo will enjoy this." - GRAMOPHONE
Review from Classics Today:
This is the first recording of Samuel Barber's superb Vanessa since the original cast recording in 1958. That one (on RCA, now unavailable) presented the original version of the opera; this new one reflects Barber's and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti's 1964 alterations, which include a synthesis of the first two acts and the cutting of a
difficult coloratura aria for Vanessa and some dialogue. It's difficult to understand why this opera is not performed more frequently; Barber and Menotti have turned out a stageworthy, melodic, fascinating tale with fine psychological insights, complete with arias, duets, and ensembles in a lyrical, Romantic vein. Barber wanted Maria Callas for the title role but she was uncomfortable singing in English, couldn't locate the melodies, and refused a role in which the man she loves has fallen for the mezzo (three quirks, but there you have Callas)--but the premiere was a brilliant success anyway. Later that year the opera was performed in Salzburg where it was somewhat less of a smash, but it still was widely admired and has remained so.
This recording is splendid, but it doesn't supplant the RCA version. That cast--Steber, Elias, Gedda, and Resnik, led by Dimitri Mitropoulos--is simply perfect, and its early stereo sound, slightly favoring the voices so that almost every word is comprehensible, remains very good. Here we get the orchestra--fine players, one and all--occasionally drowning out the singers. Although this probably is a more honest presentation of what we'd get in the theater, I miss the clarity. There are big climaxes involving the whole orchestra, with brass ringing out brashly, that simply blot out Vanessa's words, and at times even the notes. But these infelicities should not dissuade you from owning this set; it's a remarkable achievement.
The diction of the all American cast is quite good, but casting Erika--a mezzo role, in which the darker, middle register is both emotionally right and helps with understandability--with a soprano is a mistake, despite Andrea Matthews' fine abilities as a singing actress. (If she is a mezzo, she's a very light mezzo and the effect is the same.) Ellen Chickering sings Vanessa beautifully and with great feeling; her voice isn't as round and lovely as Steber's, but it is impressive. Marion Dry has a true, dark sound for the Old Baroness and it's apt; her words are always understandable. Ray Bauwens has a bright, good-sized tenor, he articulates well, and he has the right swagger for Anatol. Baritone Richard Conrad (who was an exquisite, very light bel canto tenor in the '60s and recorded with Joan Sutherland) gets everything right as the Doctor--he's completely involved with this dysfunctional family. Conductor Gil Rose leads a taut performance, but as mentioned, he might have held the orchestra back a bit more in deference to his singers--and the engineers might have worked with him. If you own the RCA, this isn't quite necessary; but by itself it presents this maybe-masterpiece handsomely, and at a bargain price.
Works on This Recording
Vanessa, Op. 32 by Samuel Barber
Andrea Matthews (Soprano),
Ray Bauwens (Tenor),
Marion Dry (Alto),
Richard Conrad (Baritone),
Philip Lima (Baritone),
Ellen Chickering (Soprano)
Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra,
Ukrainian National Capella "Dumka"
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1957; USA
Date of Recording: 2002
Venue: Ukranian Radio, Kiev, Ukraine
Length: 120 Minutes 59 Secs.
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