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News - Samuel Barber’s Vanessa at Glyndebourne

Friday, July 20, 2018
This summer Glyndebourne Festival Opera presents the first full-scale UK production of Vanessa by American composer Samuel Barber. An operatic thriller from the age of Hitchcock, Barber’s first opera boasts one of the 20th century’s most lavish scores to a libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer’s lifelong partner in life and work. It will run on August 5-26, 2018 in Lewes, UK.

Vanessa is being revived in years after decades of European neglect. Its first reception in 1958 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was immensely enthusiastic; Newsweek reported that Barber's presence was met with ’the full-throated roar usually reserved for prima donnas’, while the conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos exclaimed: ‘At last, an American grand opera!’. Later that year, the composer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music. When the work travelled to the Salzburg Festival, however, the lush neo-romanticism of Vanessa was dismissed by European critics in an era of avant-garde idioms as ‘an opera for the public and not for intellectuals’. 

Listen to the Glyndebourne podcast

Audiences and opera houses are now rediscovering its immense beauty and deep humanism with female experience at its centre. In a similar way to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which premiered just four months later, Vanessa is a story of erotic obsession.

Abandoned by her lover Anatol, Vanessa retreats from the world. With only her mother and niece Erika for company, she drapes all mirrors in black cloth so that in her mind she will never age. A man called Anatol arrives. However, he is not Vanessa’s former lover, but his son. Anatol is handsome and charming and quickly seduces Erika. She becomes pregnant with his child but soon loses interest and leaves him. Following Erika’s rejection, he turns to Vanessa, who, believing him to be his father's younger self, is instantly charmed. The night Vanessa and Anatol formally announce their engagement, Erika disappears from the house to abort the baby in the snow. Wrapped up in her own self-deceit, Vanessa leaves the mansion with the young Anatol, leaving Erika who waits for her true love.

Olivier Award-winning director Keith Warner (below) makes his Glyndebourne debut with this production which promises to bring out the psychological tensions of Barber’s heart-breaking domestic drama. Jakub Hrůša conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Glyndebourne Chorus and a cast which includes Emma Bell (Vanessa), Virginie Verrez (Erika) and Edgaras Montvidas (Anatol).

Keith Warner on his new production of Vanessa

Dates and times
Sunday 5 August, 4.45 pm
Tuesday 7 August, 5.20 pm
Friday 10 August, 5.20 pm
Sunday 12 August, 4.45 pm
Tuesday 14 August, 5.20 pm >> live streaming in cinemas and online
Friday 17 August, 5.20 pm
Sunday 19 August, 4.45 pm
Wednesday 22 August, 5.20 pm
Friday 24 August, 5.20 pm
Sunday 26 August, 4.45 pm

Tickets and more info at

Explore the score of Vanessa

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