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Opera

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Barber

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Vanessa Emma Bell sop �Vanessa Virginie Verrez mez �Erika Edgaras Montvidas ten �Anatol Rosalind Plowright mez �The Old Baroness Donnie Ray Albert bar �The Old Doctor William Thomas bass �Nicholas Romanas Kudriašovas bar �Footman The Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra / Jakub Hrůša Stage director Keith Warner Video director François Roussillon Opus Arte F ◊ OA1289D; F Y OABD7258D (130’ + 10’ • NTSC • 16:9 • 1080i • DTS‑HD MA5.1, DTS5.1 & LPCM stereo • 0 • s) Recorded live, August 14, 2018 Extra features: ‘Vanessa: An Operatic Thriller’; Cast Gallery. Includes synopsis

Since it was unveiled at last year’s Glyndebourne Festival, Keith Warner’s handsome and perceptive staging of Barber’s

Vanessa has probably done more to silence the work’s naysayers than any in recent memory. It’s a piece that has in equal measure divided and baffled the musical cognoscenti over the years. What is it really about? Should we care about these selfpitying, self-indulgent women? Isn’t it all just a lot of hot air? That rather depends on how you approach it. Psychological thrillers are none too common in opera and the issue with Vanessa has always been how you put that on stage. Warner does a Hitchcock on it. And he does it with mirrors. Vanessa has covered all the mirrors in her isolated mansion. She awaits the return of her lover Anatol. Frightened of what she might see ‘through a glass darkly’, she looks only into herself. So Warner dwarfs her with gigantic moving mirrors, their reflections inescapable. Past, present and future merge – sometimes simultaneously. Noirish filmed projections heighten the surreal, dreamlike quality and take us obliquely into the world of Rebecca, Vertigo and Marnie. Lighting designer Mark Jonathan even lights it like a film noir. More revelatory still is the sense that Warner has created of Vanessa, her niece

Erika and the Old Baroness being three generations of the same woman. What a difference to one’s perceptions of the piece that makes.

I always think that one can judge the quality of an opera production by the extent to which it withstands close scrutiny. The close-ups here (and these ladies are all ready for them) are hugely revealing. Rosalind Plowright’s Baroness is a gaunt, watchful presence; Emma Bell’s highly strung Vanessa is all pent-up frustration (sexual and otherwise); and in between Virginie Verrez’s Erika – a quite marvellous performance – is slowly but surely turning into both of them.

A vicious circle of love, deceit and betrayal is fuel in abundance for Samuel Barber’s heady brew – and it absolutely chimes with the Hollywood-infused lushness of his lyricism and somewhat overheated heft of his explosive orchestral tuttis. There are moments here which could just as easily have sprung from the pen of Hitchcock’s composer of choice, Bernard Herrmann. Indeed, the underscoring of this melodrama is rendered all the more gripping by the way in which the voices are such an integral part of it. Set pieces defer to the impulse and imperative of the sung dialogue. The work’s two most famous arias come early – Erika’s ‘Must the winter come so soon’ and Vanessa’s ‘He has come’ – and they are essentially scene-setters for the impending drama. Bookending them, the poignant quartet ‘To leave, to break’ is a summation.

But it’s all of a piece, no question, and thanks to Warner’s perception and motivation this excellent cast really deliver. As do Glyndebourne’s resident London Philharmonic under the dynamic young Czech Jakub Hr≤≈a. Shadowy, opulent, effulgent – Barber’s Vanessa is the opera that bridges Hollywood and the Broadway stage. Edward Seckerson

Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice (1762 Vienna version) Iestyn Davies counterten �Orfeo Sophie Bevan sop �Euridice Rebecca Bottone sop �Amore La Nuova Musica / David Bates Pentatone F PTC5186 (89’ • DDD) Recorded live at St John’s Smith Square, London,

May 2018 Includes libretto and translation

This is the first version of Gluck’s opera, composed for Vienna in 1762, complete on one CD: not quite penny plain, as David Bates has included the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from the Paris version of 1774. It comes from Pentatone, Gramophone’s 2019 Label of the Year, and it’s very fine. It’s hard to believe that it was recorded live, as there’s not a peep from the audience: no coughing, no applause.

I wish the booklet had named the singers and players of La Nuova Musica. The chorus has much to do, and I lost count of the number of times it ravished the ear. When the lament that opens the opera returns, it has a greater urgency. Similarly, the Furies’ first chorus is given extra momentum by the crescendo at the repeat of ‘sull’orme d’Ercole e di Piritoo’. When the spirits finally take pity on Orfeo, their hushed singing gives way to a marvellous intensity in another crescendo before the music dies away. When the Blessed Spirits announce the arrival of Euridice the pastoral lightness is just right. I couldn’t detect any difference between the first time’s Andantino and the second’s Allegretto – which presumably implies a slightly faster tempo – but no matter.

The orchestra, too, is extremely accomplished. There’s a delightful hint of portamento in the introduction to the first chorus (and again in the postlude). The horns are splendidly prominent, both in the ‘orribile sinfonia’ to Act 2 and in the minore sections of the second Ballo at the end. The dances are all played with fire or grace, as appropriate; and the flute, oboe and cello obbligatos in ‘Che puro ciel’ are beautifully phrased and perfectly balanced. (The recording producer is Gramophone’s Jonathan Freeman-Attwood.)

The soloists are magnificent. Iestyn Davies sings smoothly throughout, hitting top Ds and Es with no sense of strain. He could show a greater sense of wonder when entering the Elysian Fields, but his grief in Act 1 and his encounter with the Furies are vividly conveyed. ‘Che farò’ is restrained,

gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2020 33

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