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Vanessa at Glyndebourne opera review: Competent but lacks the extra class | Theatre | Entertainment
Published On: Fri, Aug 10th, 2018

Vanessa at Glyndebourne opera review: Competent but lacks the extra class | Theatre | Entertainment


This is an almost-five-stars performance of an almost-five-stars production of a no-more-than-three-stars opera, and that more or less averages out at four stars.

All too often, modern opera directors try to turn classic works into psychodramas, but with Vanessa that is not necessary: it already is a psychodrama in an almost Hitchcock mould. Vanessa has lived with her aged mother, who does not talk to her, in a mansion with all mirrors and windows blacked out. Twenty years ago she was in love with Anatol and she has yearned for his return ever since, cutting herself off from all worldly pleasures.

After all this time, Anatol does indeed return, but he’s a young man, just as Vanessa remembers him. In fact, he is the son of her lover, though Vanessa dearly wants to believe he is the man she knew.

Anatol proceeds to seduce Vanessa’s niece, Erika, then agrees to marry Vanessa. The two shoot off together to Paris, leaving Erika grieving and ordering the windows and mirrors to be covered again as she inherits Vanessa’s grief.

Director Keith Warner and stage designer Ashley Martin-Davis bring us a glorious set, in which the mirrors and windows are seen as huge picture frames, sometimes displaying memories behind them, sometimes reflections and sometimes showing what is happening in other parts of the mansion. It’s an imaginative way to tell the memory-rich story, but it is sometimes confusing to decide what you are really looking at.

The title role is sung beautifully by Emma Bell, and Rosalind Plowright brings gravity to the role of her mother, but the real stars of the show are Virginie Verrez as Erika and Donnie Ray Albert as the family doctor. Both in her singing and acting, Verrez shows great versatility, bringing heaps of emotion to her performance while Albert adds a much-needed, but never overdone touch of humour.

The weakness of the whole opera is the role of Anatol, who is sung very well by Edgaras Montvidas, but Samuel Barber’s librettist, Gian Carlo Menotti, did not develop the role well enough to give him much to get his acting teeth into. His motivations in bedding Erika then marrying her Mum is scarely more than hinted at and we are left wondering what is going on in his mind. Does her think Vanessa is his own mother? Does she think so? Is it all a reworking of the Oedipus myth? Is the whole thing a true psychodrama or just unexplained psychobabble?

As for Barber’s music, well, there are a couple of fine arias and a glorious final quintet, but one can see why Vanessa has never really established itself in the repertoire. For the most part it’s competent enough as a composition but lacks the extra class needed to be gripping.



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Vanessa at Glyndebourne opera review: Competent but lacks the extra class | Theatre | Entertainment