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The story -- based on an Isak Dinesen tale but emerging as very watered-down Chekhov -- concerns a noblewoman, Vanessa, who awaits the lover she hasn't seen for twenty years. The Anatol who arrives, announcing the death of his father, is the original lover's son. He proceeds to seduce and impregnate Vanessa's niece, Erika, and -- as has to happen in these things -- both women fall for him. Eventually he marries the older woman and goes off to Paris with her leaving Erika to lose the child she carries and begin her own long wait that completes the circle.

Barber gives this tosh the full spectacular treatment. In New York his score was hailed as 'one of the most impressive things to appear anywhere since Richard Strauss'. The Austrian press sneered at its 'chromaticized Puccini, plus a few ounces of Strauss, Wagner and Tchaikovsky with a shot of Debussy'. The opening sounds like very recognisable Samuel Barber to me [listen -- CD1 track 1, 0:03-0:56].

Ellen Chickering copes admirably with the dramatic and tender requirements of Vanessa's part and she does so with intonation that is resolute and sure [listen -- CD1 track 6, 3:23-4:28]. Andrea Matthews is a very powerful Erika -- the one who recognises that Anatol is 'incapable of love. His words as easy as his kisses', but cannot resist his charms [listen -- CD1 track 9, 2:07-3:23]. Occasionally these two very decibel-rich voices can become a mite indistinguishable but there is never any doubt about the engagement with their roles.

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Copyright © 5 November 2003 David Wilkins, Eastbourne UK


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