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Ensemble

Vocal Glory

Massenet's 'Manon' in HD
from New York Metropolitan Opera,
enjoyed by MARIA NOCKIN

 

Antoine François Prévost d'Exiles (1697-1763) wrote the book from which the story of the opera Manon was taken. The story of Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut (Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut) is volume seven of Prevost's Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité. It was published separately in 1731. The author had a most interesting past. He was educated by the Jesuits and joined that order in 1713. Three years later he left and joined the army. After what is thought to have been a most unfortunate love affair, he left the army and joined the Benedictine Order. That affair might have been the basis for the story of Des Grieux and Manon. In 1726 Prevost was ordained a priest, but two years later he left the abbey without permission and fled to London. While with the Benedictines he had started work on Mémoires et aventures, so he continued to work on it and on other books during the next three years in England. Then he moved to the Netherlands and stayed there until 1733 when he returned to England with a lady who had a shady reputation. However, one year later he reconciled with the Benedictines and moved back to France where he spent most his remaining years.

Piotr Beczala as des Grieux and Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard
Piotr Beczala as des Grieux and Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard. Click on the image for higher resolution

Librettists Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille based their opera libretto on Prevost's Histoire, but their single title character was Manon. Jules Massenet who composed the music made her a superstar. Their five act opera was premièred on 19 January 1884, at the Opéra Comique. It was not the first time the story had been used, however. Daniel Auber's Manon Lescaut had been seen in Paris in 1856 and Puccini's opera of the same name would be premièred in Turin in 1894.

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard
Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard. Click on the image for higher resolution

On 7 April 2012, The Metropolitan Opera transmitted Massenet's Manon live in high definition to cinemas around the world. The transmission went smoothly and the opera was seen and heard in all its vocal glory. Reviews from Lima, Peru, and Cairo, Egypt, were ecstatic. We loved it in Arizona, too, even though we had to be in the theater by 8am to get good seats.

Watch and listen -- Anna Netrebko as Manon in the Gavotte
from Massenet's 'Manon'. © 2012 New York Metropolitan Opera :

Laurent Pelly's production included more of the music than has often been played. He gave us all five acts, including the opening scene before Manon arrives. The story has a great deal more impact when you see it all. Pelly updates the time to the late nineteenth century, and the costumes he designed placed it firmly in that period.

Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard
Anna Netrebko in the title role of Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard. Click on the image for higher resolution

Except for her post-convent travel clothes in the first scene and her deportation garb at the end, Manon gets to wear one gorgeous gown after another. Netrebko looked enchanting and sang every note with emotional punch. Although she does not have the coloratura of a Beverly Sills, Netrebko convinces you that she is Manon. You cry with her when she sings the Adieu to the little table and you toast her at the Cours de la Reine. When she sings the duet with Piotr Beczala as Des Grieux, you really want to cheer them both.

Watch and listen -- Anna Netrebko as Manon and Piotr Beczala as des Grieux
in the duet from the St Sulpice scene of Massenet's 'Manon'.
© 2012 New York Metropolitan Opera :

Beczala is perfectly cast in his role. His voice is rich, well focused and flexible. He has the ringing, burnished tones and exquisite technique that the role calls for. His Ah, fuyez douce image was superb. Pelly has him meet Manon in church, but there is a bed in an alcove just off to the side.

Piotr Beczala as des Grieux in Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard
Piotr Beczala as des Grieux in Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard. Click on the image for higher resolution

Matinee idol Paulo Szot was a smooth voiced Lescaut who was much more interested in carousing than in the welfare of his young cousin. French tenor Christophe Mortagne created a memorable character as Guillot. Whenever Manon was living the high life, you knew he was waiting to bring her down.

Watch and listen -- Anna Netrebko as Manon, Piotr Beczala as des Grieux
and Paulo Szot as Lescaut in a scene from Massenet's 'Manon'.
© 2012 New York Metropolitan Opera :

Anne-Carolyn Bird as Pousette, Jennifer Black as Javotte and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Rosette were perky, and charming. Each of them sang well but Costa-Jackson's voice was particularly smooth and ingratiating. Bradley Garvin was a smart and stylish De Brétigny and David Pittsinger was solidly grounded as the elder Des Grieux. Since Manon is a French opera, it should have a ballet and this production had a corps de ballet dressed in white tulle.

Piotr Beczala as des Grieux in Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard
Piotr Beczala as des Grieux in Massenet's 'Manon' at New York Metropolitan Opera. Photo © 2012 Ken Howard. Click on the image for higher resolution

Metropolitan Opera Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi kept his forces moving at a reasonably brisk pace. He never let the tension get loose and he kept all his forces perfectly coordinated. Thus, this five act opera seemed almost too short. We were left wanting more. The opera's two intermissions were filled with interesting backstage vignettes. Deborah Voigt interviewed the main soloists and we learned more about their interpretations. When she spoke with Nebrebko and her dresser, the diva was wearing a fabulous red gown and had a foil wrapped chocolate Easter bunny in her cleavage. At one point when the camera was pointed elsewhere, the chocolate was removed from its proximity to the silk dress and the diva was heard to exclaim, 'My bunny!' I'm sure she got it back when the dress was safely hung on the rack. Last Saturday was a wonderful day at the opera and I'm glad it was transmitted to the far reaches of the earth.

Copyright © 16 April 2012 Maria Nockin,
Arizona USA

-------

JULES MASSENET

MANON

METROPOLITAN OPERA

NEW YORK

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

FRANCE

HENRI MEILHAC

HIGH DEFINITION

LAURENT PELLY

ANNA NETREBKO

DEBORAH VOIGT

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