Vanessa is an American opera in three (originally four) acts by Samuel Barber, opus 32, with an original English libretto by Gian-Carlo Menotti. It was composed in 1956–1957 and was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 15, 1958 under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulos in a production designed by Cecil Beaton and directed by Menotti. Barber revised the opera in 1964, reducing the four acts to the three-act version most commonly performed today.
- Time: About 1905.
- Place: Vanessa's country house in a northern country.
Vanessa, Erika, and the Baroness await the arrival of Anatol, a man who had been Vanessa's lover twenty years before. After he left, she covered up all the mirrors of the house until his expected return, unwilling to face looking at her aging self. Thinking that the man who arrives and who is called Anatol is her former lover, Vanessa refuses to reveal her face to him until he says he still loves her. He says that he does, but she does not recognize him. It is the young Anatol who has come, his father now dead. Upset, Vanessa leaves the room, and Erika and Anatol now enjoy the meal and wine meant for Vanessa and his father.
Erika tells the Baroness that the young Anatol seduced her on his first night in the house and the Baroness scolds her. Erika has fallen in love with Anatol, but resists his marriage proposal because she doubts his sincerity. Not knowing that Erika loves the young man and in her delusionary state of mind, Vanessa tells her niece that she still loves him, despite Erika's warning that he is not her former lover. The Baroness tells Erika to fight for Anatol. She is unsure if he is worthy of her efforts. Again, he proposes, and, again, she declines.
The doctor is drunk at a New Year's Eve ball. The Baroness and Erika refuse to come to the party to hear his announcement of Anatol and Vanessa's engagement. The doctor goes to fetch them, while Vanessa tells Anatol her fears. Finally Erika, who, unbeknownst to everyone else, is pregnant, comes downstairs, but faints, clutching her stomach, while the doctor is making the announcement. She recovers and flees into the freezing weather in order to cause herself to miscarry. (In the original she says, "His child! It must not be born!" which makes clear her motivation for going out into the cold, but this line is dropped in the revision.)
Vanessa is happy when Erika is found alive, and she asks Anatol why Erika is acting so strangely and whether he thinks that she loves him. He explains that she does not. Continuing in her delusionary state, Vanessa begs Anatol to take her away. Meanwhile, Erika confesses to the Baroness that she had been pregnant, but is no longer. As Vanessa and Anatol finalize their preparations to move to Paris, Vanessa asks Erika why she ran away. The niece replies that she was just being foolish, and Vanessa tells her that she may never come back to the house where she has been living. After the couple leaves, Erika covers the mirrors and closes up the house, just as Vanessa had done before her. She says that it is now her turn to wait.