Beyond a fondness for fortified Estonian vanilla liqueur, the Straussmonster and I have a good many things in common. One of these is that we turn into profoundly emo walrii (see subject line for illustration) when folks hate on the libretto Giancarlo Menotti wrote for Samuel Barber's Vanessa. Bemoaning this fact this evening, between big, walrusy tears, we came upon one review that started out by defending the opera itself, only to join in slagging on the book. "Vanessa," the review went on, "is about Vanessa." Well yes, and many other things besides. It's a funny review, with a madcap reference to "Three's Company," but as I said to the Straussmonster, said I, "'x is about y' is almost never an interesting or meaningful sentence unless Y is a pretty long and detailed clause." I meant it, too.
Not to keep you in suspense, here is what your monster and your Maury think Vanessa is about: Vanessa is about (obviously) regret and self-deception, about the disasters inherent to family, the disasters inherent to patriarchy if you'll pardon the undergraduate-level gender politics in summary, the horror of aging, the narcissism inherent to love, and about the importance of never serving ecrevisses a la bordelaise and langoustines grillees sauce aux huitres on the same menu. Vanessa is about the lies that we all tell ourselves, the unknowability of another human being, and the need to get along to go along. Vanessa, finally, and we feel a number of reviews we have read miss this point most of all, is about the failure of the human character to provide satisfying resolutions a good deal of the time.
La Monstre has also not unreasonably noted the misogyny that underlies certain opera queen readings of Vanessa, ones that do give us pause as we look past the trees to the forest and think about opera queen discourse in general. (And if you care to look further than that, there's lookin' to be done.) We hope, as we sit here in our cozy fit of not quite pique, that no-one will take this as a personally pointed finger, unless of course they should.