Photo of Emily Pulley as Vanessa
Emily Pulley as Vanessa
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Central City Opera's commendable commitment to American opera each summer never looked and sounded better than it does with this year's production of Samuel Barber's Vanessa. Originally written as a commission for the Metropolitan Opera, the 1958 Pulitzer Prize-winning score is a pleasing blend of melody and impressionism that belies its mid-20th Century origins.

The story opens amidst designer Michael Lasswell's icy blue, well-appointed interior, with snow falling on a rural setting outside the windows. Three women sit in mysterious anticipation. We learn that Vanessa has been waiting 20 years for her ex-lover, Anatol, to return for her, despite the fact that he went to the city and married someone else. Her only companions are her mother, the Baroness, who refuses to talk with her, and her attractive young niece, Erika, who oversees household matters, including the servants.

Photo of Theodore Chletsos as Anatol and Leah Wool as Erika
Theodore Chletsos as Anatol
and Leah Wool as Erika
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Gian Carlo Menotti's original, gothic-inspired libretto—sometimes poetic, sometimes overly Latinized verbiage—is unlike any opera before or since, leaving us to wonder about the strange curse that has been passed along from Vanessa to Erika.

Emily Pulley, a former apprentice and grant recipient from the CCO, shows us why her soprano has become a regular at the Met, effortlessly gliding through the acrobatic and lyric passages written for the infatuated Vanessa; up and coming mezzo, Leah Wool, is nothing but dulcet tones as the demanding romantic, Erika; Theodore Chletsos, as Anatol, has a tenor as handsome and smooth as his looks; Victoria Livengood uses her powerful mezzo to echo the Baronness' disappointment; and bass-baritone Patrick Farfizzi as the Doctor, and Mark Dahinden, as Nicholas, the major domo, provide a steady stream of comic moments.

Photo of Victoria Livengood as the Baroness and Leah Wool as Erika
Victoria Livengood as the Baroness
and Leah Wool as Erika
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
The production is elegantly staged by Michael Erhman, and includes candlelight moments, an ethnic dance, and set changes by the maids and butlers, with the only disruption being some unfortunate reflections of the stage lighting off the mirrors. Artistic Director Emeritus John Moriarty guides the Festival Orchestra on a precise yet fluid journey through Barber's complex and inventive score.

Central City Opera's production of Vanessa runs through August 7th in repertory with Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Benjamin Britten's Paul Bunyun. 303-292-6700.

Bob Bows


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