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Mannes Opera Revives Barber-Menotti “Vanessa,” Relocated & Somewhat Updated
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   
photo by Eugenia Ames
(left to right) Wan Zhao, Ganson Salmon, Lauren Yokabaskas & Matthew Cossack
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Mannes School of Music at the New School’s Mannes Opera gave composer Samuel Barber and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved gothic melodrama “Vanessa” (1958), heated and sometimes overwrought, early in May, for two performances, double-cast, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It’s always good to get reacquainted with this opera and there were some surprises. The opening night, on May 5, is considered here.
“Vanessa” is set in an unspecified “northern country,” presumably in Europe, in 1905, but director Jay Lesenger relocated it to the northern Hudson River Valley, in New York, near where Barber and Menotti made their home. Lesenger set scenes in the interior of Vanessa’s house, where time has stood still for 20 years, at the heroine’s behest, in 1905, and had the characters dress accordingly, while visitors from the outside world arrived in fashions of 1925, jazzy, flapper-style, as costumed by Nancy L. Leary. The title of Baroness was dropped in favor of Madame and the Count of Albany became the Mayor of Albany. It was not such a stretch after all. Joseph Colaneri led the Mannes Orchestra in an impressive account of the lush score, but from where I sat, front and center, the balance of orchestral sound and singers was decidedly not in the singers’ favor.
Lauren Yokabaskas’ aptly imperious Vanessa introduced herself in a strong and impassioned “Do not utter a word, Anatol,” laced with not a little bitterness, and cut such a self-centered figure that one could easily believe that she would make niece Erika’s suicide attempt entirely about herself. After a graceful “Must the winter come so soon?,” Wan Zhao’s sheltered Erika was forced to grow up quickly to cope with adult situations. Rosalind Elias, who created the role of Erika, was in the audience.
Ganson Salmon made a boyish Anatol, sly and sneaky, seducing Erika, while quoting “Boris Godunov” and invoking Dmitri and Marina, and soon readily turning Vanessa’s head. Matthew Cossack was the polished baritone Doctor. Kimberly Hann was Vanessa’s implacable mother, Erika’s grandmother, giving first one and then the other the silent treatment.
The voices blended well in the ensembles, the quartet “Under the willow tree” and climactic quintet “To leave, to break.”
Designer Roger Hanna blurred indoors and outdoors with a set that included birch trees as house columns and, with just part of a staircase, a chandelier, a plush circular sofa, and some curtains, suggested as grand a ballroom as one might find in “La Traviata” or “Die Fledermaus.”

 

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