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American Opera Makes British Debut

January 14, 1999

LONDON (AP) _ The American opera ``Vanessa″ by Samuel Barber has made its British debut _ in a style very different from its grand, florid first performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera 41 years ago.

That production featured lavish costumes and designs by Cecil Beaton, a friend of the composer. After rave reviews, it won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Monday’s British premiere was at the 100-seat Studio space at the Lyric Theater in Hammersmith, west London. And while the opera was written for an orchestra of 80 musicians, the Lyric production has just one piano.

Booking is heavy for seven further performances through Jan. 23.

``No one can explain why it hasn’t been done before in this country but there’s fashion in opera and these things go up and down,″ said associate producer Alastair Trevill.

The gloomy, dramatic libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti is all sung in one room of an old country house in a harsh winter in 1905.

In the opera, Vanessa fervently awaits the arrival of her former lover, whom she hasn’t seen for 20 years, but the man who arrives is his son and namesake, Anatol.

Anatol seduces Vanessa’s niece, Erika. When Anatol and Vanessa announce their engagement, Erika attempts suicide but is saved. After the lovers marry and leave for Paris, Erika settles down to wait for Anatol as Vanessa had done for his father.

The Studio has black walls and ceiling and the set is just a table with a white cloth, a candelabra and some chairs.

For tenor Evan Bowers, 36, from Chicago, Ill., who sings the role of Anatol, it was his first appearance on a London stage and the first time he has sung in English.

``I find the role romantic and the story Victorian. It works well in a confined space but there are acoustics problems,″ Bowers said.

``You have to try not to project your voice, not to sing 100 percent. You can be more subtle though,″ with the audience so close by.

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