12 November 2007

A rare outing

Barber VANESSA, NYCO 10.XI.2007; c. Manson; Flanigan, Goeldner, MacPherson, Elias, Stilwell.

I made it to the Vanessa. It's a freaky piece, eerie New England goth brimming in the text and music; the singers, all brilliant in their respective roles, took to embody Barber's intentions fully. Lauren Flanigan powered her way through Vanessa's jagged lines with much excitement and undeniable commitment. However, it was partly a waste of metaphysical energy, for sadly Barber's title role withdraws from the drama after the pivotal Act I scene when Anatol arrives. Thus after anguishing for 20 years, Vanessa finds some happiness in Junior, becomes oddly clueless and a little naive, and what doubt that could have texturized her character was visited only tangentially by the narrative. Thus no matter how charismatic the soprano, the role of Vanessa is a bore, and Maria Callas was correct to refuse the offer to premiere it. If Barber and Menotti only took that rejection as a signal to revise-- perhaps to write in a wrenching ending aria for her, to reveal what she really thought about her uncertain fate, to explicitly name her doubts, but then to also conclude that this is preferrable to the 20-year vigil that she suffered, and that Erika was preparing to do. Whatever-- Vanessa could have been a more complicated and sympathetic character if something else was written for her in the last scene. (Of course, the haunting quintet in Act III, Scene 2 suggests her eventual fate, but why only suggest when you could have a wistful aria for soprano to embody an immense longing?) Instead, Vanessa has this powerful "He has come!" aria within minutes of the curtain--which Flanigan milked till the cows came home milkless--and then quickly drops behind the character of Erika, who then sustains the tension throughout the rest of the opera.

Regarding the other singers: as Erika, Katharine Goeldner sang with much poise, with a lyric mezzo that can open up and soar with no effort, but with an alluring dark edge that shaded her music perfectly. Ryan MacPherson sang and played Anatol with correct ambiguity, at times as a youth lost in love, at times as a cunning opportunist. The Doctor, Richard Stilwell sang with a lot of elegance and poignancy, surely grabbing the spotlight when it was close by. Rosalind Elias looked so old and stately, her presence on stage was enough. But she has a handful of lines, which she delivered with a faltering, but august voice. An how wonderful it was to see a woman at the podium: Maestra Anne Manson's reading is measured, appropriately restrained, never excessively melodramatic or dark. The entire cast, the orchestra, the conductor, even the sets, could all be transported to the Met as is, and this revival wouldn't look out of place at all. It's that good.