Personalities | Samuel Barber | Modern Era | Opera
Samuel Barber’s talents were evident from a very young age. Musically conservative, his harmonic language was highly influenced by late nineteenth-century Romanticism and often criticized by modernists. Indeed, although his style defied label, and his dissonances and harmonies were not truly Romantic, his gifts as a supreme melodist served to pigeonhole him.
Barber established a lifelong personal and professional relationship with Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007), whose libretto for Barber’s first full-length opera, Vanessa (1957), was based on Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales. Barber received the Pulitzer prize for Vanessa, yet Antony and Cleopatra (1966), commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for its 1966 season opening, suffered from an overblown production that was nevertheless eclipsed by the venue itself. This disappointment slowed his momentum, and although he revised the work in 1974, it never achieved the success he so hoped for. Instead, he is best remembered for two non-operatic works: Adagio for Strings (composed 1936) and Knoxville: Summer of 1915 (composed 1947–49, first performed 1950), for soprano and orchestra.
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