This House of Opera film of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa from Monte Carlo is shot from a single camera that zooms in and out to focus on the main characters. It is clear to me from watching this that it would be possible to film a lot more operas than one would think. It looks the way it would look. Why should we need more than that? The set features a long winding staircase in the center that is the route out. There is in this particular case a problem of balance between the singers and the orchestra. Barber’s orchestration is very heavy, and is much too loud on the dvd. This may be due to the location of the microphone, of which there seems to be just one.
The plot is about unrequited love. At the beginning of the opera the “ferne Geliebte” is awaited, anxiously awaited. Vanessa has been waiting 20 years for Anatol to return to her. For me the best scene in the opera is toward the beginning. Anatol has arrived, has descended the long staircase and stands in shadow toward the bottom. Vanessa tells him not to utter a word and proceeds to tell him how much she has done for him, for love of him, how long she has waited for his return. It’s very intense, very openly soul-baring. Finally she says “Do you still love me?”
The lights come up on his face and he replies, “Yes, I believe I shall love you!” It’s a fabulous moment. He’s the wrong guy, and Vanessa panics and leaves the stage. He tells us that all his life the name Vanessa would “Scorch my mother’s lips and light my father’s eyes.” This man is indeed Anatol, but he is Anatol the son.
The neice Erica comes in and fills the empty space. Anatol tells her, “I am Dmitri the pretender. Be my Marina.” The libretto is by Menotti. Could you tell? Erica spends the night with Anatol, but once Vanessa returns he sees no one else. [Note added years later: Dmitri and Marina are characters from Boris Godunov.]
It is an opera about love. Who could resist being told that someone had waited 20 years just to love them? If anyone you knew did this, you would think they were mad, but in an opera it gives the drama an emotional depth that stays in the memory. It aspires to greatness with a lot of grand music, but ultimately it falls short musically.
Kiri te Kanawa is Vanessa. The other cast members are named Anderson and Shauffer. That’s all I know.
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