Notes and Editorial Reviews
Samuel Barber's Vanessa was premiered at the Met in January, 1958; a co-production with the Salzburg Festival, it reached there in August of the same year, and this recording documents that occasion. Audiences took to it at once, but the Austrian press disliked it, finding it very old-fashioned. It was recorded by RCA with the original New York cast, a version that's been available on-and-off for years; it is currently unavailable. Two years ago Chandos released a recording led by Leonard Slatkin starring Susan Graham and Christine Brewer that is magnificent in every way; however, it presents the opera in its revised, three-act version. This Orfeo release contains the same music as the RCA (an extra aria for Vanessa, filled with coloratura, different act divisions, and other small changes), and almost the same cast. In the major roles, it is only the replacement of Regina Resnik with Ira Malaniuk that matters.
It's an excellent performance, and if you want the four-act version with Steber, Elias, Gedda, and Tozzi, you'll now have to buy this, since the RCA has disappeared. The foursome are as fine here as on the original, with a top note or two from Steber a bit harsher--but since this was taped live, it offers even more urgency and theatricality in the delivery of all concerned. Tozzi in particular makes a better impression as the Old Doctor, his last-act aria especially moving. Malaniuk sings in heavily accented English as the Old Baroness, but it's hardly out of place and her imperiousness matches Resnik's. Dimitri Mitropoulos has at the end of his baton the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic, which plays Barber's rich, post-Straussian, Hollywood-like score brilliantly. The recording includes a brief interview, in both German and English, with Samuel Barber.
In sum, the Chandos recording is superb, and given one's druthers, I'd say that only the Chandos and either this set or the RCA are necessary. There is stage noise and occasional overload, but these are not seriously detrimental. Vanessa may be tonally and dramatically "old-fashioned", but so are the pleasures it gives.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com