A LANDAU NAMED DESIRE
VANESSA New Production Premiere
Oper Frankfurt 2 September 2012
© Sam H. Shirakawa
Bühnenbild und Kostüme
Der alte Doktor
Chor der Oper Frankfurt
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester
|Set and costumes: Julia Müer|
The demographics were the same if not more so, when I attended the fourth iteration of the Met’s production less than a month later at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. A goodly lot of that audience was made of Old Money. No wonder the Franklin Mint is resident in the City of Brotherly Lucre. As a resourceless schoolboy who saved months of lunch money for a ticket to my second opera ever, I must have been the exception that made those demos democratic.
As it turned out, Vanessa became an object lesson of my youth. Having recently experienced the first pangs of desire at the time, I was sorely dismayed to be shown that wealth doesn’t necessarily enable you to deal with the cravings for what I still haven’t begun to understand. So it was the libretto more than the music that got me. In the years since that evening, I've become convinced that it's the strength of Vanessa’s libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti as much as the quality of Barber’s music, which has caused it to fold gradually into the repertories of opera houses around the world.
|Charlotta Larsson, Kurt Streit|
After years of pining for the return of her great love Anatol, a visitor arrives at Vanessa’s estate, who turns out to be her long-lost lover’s son, also named Anatol. While Vanessa reluctantly opens her arms to her young guest, her spinsterish niece Erika offers him a part of her own anatomy. With equal promptness, she prevents nature from taking its due course, by twice turning down Anatol’s marriage proposal and cheesing the bun he's thrust into her oven. That leaves Vanessa, despite her suspicions of hanky-panky between Erika and Anatol, free to marry the scion of the love of her life and sally forth with him to -- where else? -- Paris. Having renounced one chance for love, it is now Erika’s turn to await another.
Odd perhaps, but the demographics of opening nights at the opera haven’t changed much since the days of Vanessa’s premiere at the Met. A near-sellout audience of opera subventioniers, sundry dignitaries and a lotta yotta-wealthy movers/shakers of the international banking scene assembled this past Sunday at Oper Frankfurt’s first-ever performance of Vanessa in Barber's 1965 revised version for the Met.
|Jenny Carlstedt, Anna Larsson|
|Charlotta Larssom. Kurt Streit, Jenny Carlstedt|
Oper Frankfurt’s cast for the premiere was about as vocally apt as you could find these days. Jenny Carlstedt commanded the stage from the start as the poor, not-so-little rich girl Erika. Tall, regal and parsing out a stream of warm, velvety tone, especially in her aria Must the winter come so soon..., she made the part sympathetic and compelling. In the eponymous role Charlotta Larsson looked almost too young and attractive for the role, but she but succeeded in sustaining Vanessa’s illusion/delusion of love lost/regained. Her large lyrico-spinto shone best in Vanessa’s scena Do not utter a word... While English-speaking singers have no special leverage in articulating the language, American Kurt Streit as Anatol was best understood among the cast. The role allows him to purvey his upper middle register thrillingly, and his acting treads a fine high-wire between sincerity and self-serving seity. Oper Frankfurt veteran Helena Döse made a welcome appearance as the Old Baroness. Dietrich Volle pleased the crowd with his portrayal of the opera's most appealing principal character, the family Doctor. Björn Bürger discharged his duties as the House Steward competently.
Speaking of tall, an emotionally charged moment in which Vanessa and Erika face each other down is vitiated in Thoma's staging, by having Carlstedt and Larsson standing opposite each other center-stage. Carlstedt erect is nearly a head taller than Larsson, which leaves Erika peering down her nose at her aunt, when it should be the other way round. This is an unintentional knee-slapper that should be remedied and quickly.
|Björn Bürger, Dietrich Volle|
Photographs: Barbara Aumüller
Grafix: Sam H. Shirakawa