PUCCINI Manon Lescaut • Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond; Mirella Freni (Manon Lescaut); Renato Bruson (Lescaut); Plácido Domingo (Des Grieux); Kurt Rydl (Geronte di Ravoir); Robert Gambill (Edmondo); Royal Op House London Ch; Philharmonia O •Read more DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 289 477 (2 CDs: 123:23 Text and Translation)
I have long enjoyed Jonel Perlea’s classic Rome account of Manon Lescaut featuring Licia Albanese and Jussi Björling, which was last reviewed in Fanfare 29: 4. I generally agree with the comments made there. However, I find Naxos’s recent issue of the recording to have marginally more helpful sound than the Opera d’Oro version reviewed then.
The reappearance of Sinopoli’s set at midprice as part of Universal’s new “Grand Prix” series surely merits serious consideration, even if you have an “old faithful” recording in your collection. For a start, there is the sound quality—spacious and faithful, allowing all concerned to be heard in the most flattering light. As the leads, Freni and Domingo are in top form, providing a significant challenge for Albanese and Björling. Freni is the more pliant of tone and emotionally affecting. She’s not at all forced in the upper register as Albanese can appear to be, no doubt a result in part of the 1954 recording. Björling vs. Domingo is a battle royal between tenors, and it is one that Domingo wins by a head. His sheer ardor early on and grief-stricken expression at the opera’s close make this quite a reading, even by his own high standards. Bruson’s Lescaut is every bit as Italianate as Perlea’s Robert Merrill, making the choice between them rather hard. As I write, the jury is still out in choosing between them. DG’s casting in the lesser roles is more successful. Having Brigitte Fassbaender as the Madrigal Singer is nothing short of luxury.
Those familiar with Sinopoli’s conducting will know that on occasion it could work against the intended musical dynamic—but here that is not the case. Indeed, Sinopoli could hardly be a more winning guide; he is so effective that I regret he did not find this form more often. That the excellent Philharmonia orchestra brings out the full beauty of Puccini’s writing is a significant bonus. The chorus is handled with atmosphere. It will, I suspect, be some time before a more cogent account of the work appears. This is a recording I shall return to often with much pleasure.
Manon Lescautby Giacomo Puccini Performer:
Handel Thomas (Bass),
Mark Curtis (Tenor),
John Fryatt (Tenor),
George MacPherson (Bass),
Brigitte Fassbaender (Mezzo Soprano),
Robert Gambill (Tenor),
Kurt Rydl (Bass),
Renato Bruson (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
John Tomlinson (Bass),
Mirella Freni (Soprano)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus,
Period: Romantic Written: 1893; Italy Language: Italian
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