In 1978, Spoleto Festival USA’s founder, Gian Carlo Menotti, revived Vanessa, one the most acclaimed American operas, for Spoleto’s 2nd season. Menotti, who had written the libretto, directed the production—a psychological drama set to a sweepingly lyrical score that earned composer Samuel Barber the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1955. Of this 1978 revival, The Washington Post described the work as “the finest American opera.” A recording ran on PBS’s Great Performances series, and those who were lucky enough to have seen it 45 years ago in Charleston still recount its glory.
On May 27, Vanessa reopens at the Charleston Gaillard Center, this time directed by Rodula Gaitanou with scenic and costume design by Cordelia Chisholm. Gaitanou offers some modern updates: moving this version to the mid-1950s and exploring the female characters’ psyches through her own female perspective. It’s a fresh take, and the performances during Spoleto will mark this staging’s US premiere (it was originally mounted for Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland in 2016).
Leading the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra will be guest conductor Timothy Myers, Austin Opera’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, who conducted the performance at Wexford Festival Opera to great acclaim. Wrote The Telegraph: “Barber’s rich score is superbly conducted by Timothy Myers, who relishes the music’s magnificence, brings out its intriguing detail, and supports his singers.”
Earlier this year, Spoleto’s General Director & CEO Mena Mark Hanna sat down with Myers for a special conversation about Vanessa, its score, and what makes it an ideal opera for a festival setting. Check out this excerpt:
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Fun fact? Timothy Myers also produces a podcast, Listening On Purpose. Mena Mark Hanna joined Myers for a season 1 bonus episode.