Santa Fe Opera had its first go at a disquieting opera with music by Samuel Barber to a libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, through a production that honors its formidable strengths while retaining its spirit of mystery. Director James Robinson says that he drew inspiration from “the psychologically turbulent early films of Ingmar Bergman … as well as the mid-1940s period of Alfred Hitchcock.” The opera, composed in the mid-’50s, shares much aesthetic ground with works by those filmmakers. The action unrolls in silver-gray sets, designed by Allen Moyer, that convey the family’s wealth and how little delight it affords them. Partway through the opening scene, floor-to-ceiling drapery covering the back of the stage is pulled back to reveal a huge wall of shattered glass — a visual pun that combines the title of Hitchcock’s with the broken-glass image that graced the poster for the release of his in Menotti’s Italy.
Costumes, by James Schuette, are stunning. Christopher Akerlind designed evocative lighting, employing high-contrast “film noir” exaggeration sparingly enough to make it dramatically effective rather than a winking cliché.
Soprano Erin Wall brought a luscious voice and refined passion to the title role. The part makes challenging dramatic demands, but Wall nonetheless kept it rolling, fueled by both hope and resentment. Erika was portrayed by Virginie Verrez, a mezzo-soprano near the outset of her career. She is French but sang with perfect American-English diction, and her depiction was suitable for a character whose emotional