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opera in four acts

Music by Samuel Barber
Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
after a story by Isak Dinesen in Seven Gothic Tales
About Vanessa

Vanessa, Barber's first opera, was produced with great success at the Met in 1958, winning the Pulitzer Prize that year for its composer. The title role, originally intended for but refused by Maria Callas, was learned by Eleanor Steber only six weeks before opening night.

Cast of Characters
Vanessa, a lady of great beauty, s Erika, her niece, a young girl of twenty, ms
The Old Baroness, Vanessa's mother and Erika's grandmother, c The Old Doctor, bar
Anatol, a handsome young man in his early twenties, t Nicholas, the Major-Domo, b
A Footman, b
Servants, Guests, Peasants, etc.

Vanessa has spent twenty years in her country house after being left by her lover, Anatol; she has kept the house shut up, with all of the mirrors covered. Her mother, the Old Baroness, will not speak to her; her only companion is her niece, Erika. As the opera opens, they are preparing for the arrival of Anatol. He is sighted coming towards the house, and Vanessa sends everyone else away; as soon as he arrives at the door, she declares her love for him--then faints when she discovers that the man on the doorstep is not her lover. He is, he explains to Erika, that Anatol's son; he has come to meet the woman whose name haunted his father and mother. The Anatol that Vanessa knew has died.

Anatol, left alone with Erika, seduces her; the next day, after Erika learns that he has been making advances to Vanessa, she confronts him; he offers to marry her, but, offended by the flippancy with which he has proposed, and worried about Vanessa, rejects him. At the party where Vanessa and Anatol's engagement is announced, Erika reveals to the Old Baroness that she is pregnant with Anatol's child. She runs away from the house and causes herself to miscarry; a search party sent out by Vanessa brings her back. Vanessa, still unaware of Anatol's liason with Erika, marries him, and they leave together. Erika, left alone in the house with her grandmother, who now will not speak to her, orders the mirrors covered again and the gates closed and locked, just as before.

Performance History
World premiere
Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York
January 15, 1958
Vanessa: Elanor Steber
Erika: Rosalind Elias
The Old Baroness: Regina Resnik
Anatol: Nicolai Gedda
The Old Doctor: Giorgio Tozzi
Nicholas: George Cehanovsky
Footman: Robert Nagy
Dimitri Mitropoulos, conductor
Gian Carlo Menotti, stage director
Cecil Beaton, production designer
Discography Search for recordings of Vanessa at Amazon.com

Samuel Barber: "Must the winter come so soon" from Vanessa


Denyce Graves

Voce di Donna

CD / RCA 63509 (1999)

Samuel Barber: "He has come, he has come! . . . Do not utter a word" from Vanessa


Renee Fleming

I Want Magic! American Opera Arias

CD / Polygram 160567 (1998)

Samuel Barber: "He has come, he has come! . . . Do not utter a word" from Vanessa


Leontyne Price

The Essential Leontyne Price: Great Opera Scenes

2 CD / BMG/RCA Victor 68158 (1998)

Samuel Barber: "He has come, he has come! . . . Do not utter a word" from Vanessa


Leontyne Price

The Prima Donna Collection

4 CD / RCA (1978)

Samuel Barber


Steber/Gedda/Elias/Tozzi/Resnik, Metropolitan Opera/Mitropoulos

2 CD / RCA Red Seal ARL2-2094 (1990)

Bibliography Search for book about Vanessa at Amazon.com

Samuel Barber: "Must the winter come so soon?" from Vanessa


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Mezzo-Soprano

G. Schirmer 2004

Samuel Barber: "For ev'ry love there is a last farewell" from Vanessa

Samuel Barber: "You rascal you! I never knew you had a soul" from Vanessa


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Baritone/Bass

G. Schirmer 2004

Samuel Barber: "On the path to the lake" from Vanessa

Samuel Barber: "Outside this house" from Vanessa


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Tenor

G. Schirmer 2004

Samuel Barber: "Do not utter a word" from Vanessa

Samuel Barber: "Why must the greatest sorrows come" from Vanessa


G. Schirmer American Opera Anthology: Soprano

G. Schirmer 2004

Last update: January 1, 2009