Samuel Barber: Antony and Cleopatra

Samuel Barber: Antony and Cleopatra
Schirmer Archives: Justino Diaz and Leontyne Price
On September 16, 1966, with considerable anticipation the Metropolitan Opera opened its new home at New York’s Lincoln Center. To mark the momentous occasion the debut was paired with the premiere of Samuel Barber’s new opera, Antony and Cleopatra. The opera, with Franco Zeffirelli’s stage direction and libretto (completed after much coaxing from Barber during a journey to Zefferilli’s villa in Italy), received a critical reception that overshadowed the opening of the new opera house. The events of the premiere are now legendary: the over-direction, the stagecraft that failed to work, the ponderous costumes and set-design, all to showcase the Met’s new state-of–the-art capabilities. Since the premiere, the opera has received few fully staged performances.

For some critics the “spectacle was overpowering....even the audience seemed overproduced”, for others, like the New York Times’ Bernard Holland, the work was “crushed, to all appearances, beneath the grandeurs of Zeffirelli’s behemouth staging.”

In 1975 Antony and Cleopatra received a revival by the Juilliard Opera (and a significant revision). It was staged by its new librettist, Gian Carlo Menotti and conducted by James Conlon. In 1983 the Spoleto Festival performed this much revised version in Italy and Charleston, South Carolina, and garnered the critical praise the opera deserved: “a sign of Mr. Barber’s exceptional gifts that he could express such eloquent things by such simple means.” (New York Times) This revised version was also staged in 1991 by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was broadcast on PBS’s Great Performances.

On January 15, the City Opera of New York brings Antony and Cleopatra back to New York in a concert performance as the innaugural event to commence international celebrations of Barber’s centennial in 2010. In conjunction with the performance, City Opera will co-present a provocative symposium on January 10, at New York’s Miller Theater. Singers, actors, Egyptologists, art historians, cultural critics, and Samuel Barber’s biographer will offer a wide-angle view of this American masterwork, an historic opera that may yet find a permanent place in the professional repertoire.

Listen to composer Lee Hoiby describe his work with Barber during the composition of Antony and Cleopatra at

Samuel Barber
Antony and Cleopatra
2 hours SSATB chorus; ballet; Soprano; 12 Basses [1=Baritone], 8 Tenors [1=High Baritone]; lyric Soprano; Mezzo soprano; Alto; 5 Baritones [1=Tenor, 1=Bass];
2+pic.2+ca.2+bcl.2+cbn/4331/ timp.5perc/

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