(Intro to "He has come, he has come" played on radio broadcast)
That’s some of the menacingly hopeful music from "Vanessa." Saturday night at the IU Opera Theatre it was tolling ominously to guide the arrival of Vanessa’s long lost love Anatol. As it turns out the Anatol who arrives was actually Anatol’s son and that was just the beginning of the dark complications that were revealed or hinted at in Samuel Barber’s wonderful grand opera.
Barber is best known for his famous, flowing Adagio for Strings. It’s become a top ten classical hit. Barber was a fine singer and wrote many song settings. His skills in setting words are amply demonstrated in "Vanessa." Barber also worked actively to hone his skills as a master of orchestral color. "Vanessa," his only opera, makes full use of the orchestra in the pit and of a substantial off stage band as well.
In Saturday’s cast Angela Jardim was Vanessa. Jardim was sorely challenged by the orchestra in the first half of the evening and her voice seemed strident and hoarse. But as the opera went on and gentler moments occurred her voice came into its own. Vanessa’s niece, Erika, was sung with lovely grace by April Golliver. Erika either has the most potential for life of the opera’s characters in this ghost ridden family or is an accident waiting to happen.. The evening’s Anatol was Johan Weigel. Weigel was very much at ease vocally and dramatically as a young adventurer trading on his name. The old family doctor, the opera’s sad -funny clown was played and sung admirably by Andrew Oakden. Kelly Samarzea sang the role of the old Baroness, Vanessa’s mother. Samarzea sang well and her brooding presence from her wheel chair was always a dramatic focus. Rounding out the cast was Corey McKern as the most self-effacing of major domos.
Robert O’Hearn’s massive stage set for Vanessa’s impressive but brooding home drew applause from the audience. Stage director Vincent Liotta and his cast clearly understood and communicated both the turbulent surface and the even more confused depths of the opera. Imre Pallo conducted with verve.
Saturday night’s audience for "Vanessa " was a bit thinner than usual. Competition for audiences is a very real part of the cultural life of all the producing organizations in our area and we all have to pick and choose. However, if you’re not afraid of unabashedly beautiful dramatic music written in the last fifty years, and if you’d actually like to see an opera where who is whom and what they are doing, have done and will do are all active questions then "Vanessa" is made to order for you.
The IU Opera Theatre production of Samuel Barber’s "Vanessa" plays this Friday and Saturday nights. You can read this review and others on the web at WFIU.dot Indiana dot edu.