*** This Blu-ray Disc is only playable on Blu-ray Disc players and not compatible with standard DVD or HD DVD players. ***
MASSENET Manon & • Daniel Barenboim, cond; Anna Netrebko (Manon); Rolando Villazón (des Grieux); Christof Fischesser (Comte des GrieuxRead more class="ARIAL12">); Alfredo Daza (Lescaut); Rémy Corazza (Guillot); Arttu Kataja (Brétigny); Hanan Alattar (Poussette); Gal James (Javotte); Silvia de La Muela (Rosette); Berlin Staatskapelle O St Op Ch • DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001208959 (Blu-ray Disc: 182:00) Live: Berlin 4–5/2007
& “The Making of Manon”
Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, and Jules Massenet’s Manon would seem to be a match made in heaven. The brief essay for this DVD emphasizes that Manon is “an opera about sex appeal, glamour, beauty and youth.” Picking up on that idea, director Vincent Paterson has placed his production in 1950s Paris. Manon is a young girl who is obsessed with fan magazines to a point where she actually imagines herself (in the opera) to be the star of her own film. In this context, she is transformed into some of her film-star models (most famously, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe). Given Netrebko’s present status as opera’s definitive glamour girl, Paterson’s concept suits her well. She never fails to project plenty of stage charisma, and she clearly enjoys what she is doing. As they say in tinsel town, the camera loves her. More important, her rich, creamy voice is well suited to Massenet’s super-heated score. Villazón is almost touching in the way he enthusiastically throws himself into the role of des Grieux, and his gorgeous Italianate voice doesn’t hurt, aside from his tendency to sing too loud. The entire supporting cast, with one exception, is merely functional, but it is admittedly difficult to compete with Netrebko and Villazón. The exception is Christof Fischesser’s richly burnished and imposing voice as the Comte des Grieux. Daniel Barenboim is a surprising choice to conduct Manon (he apparently agreed to fill in at the last minute). He resembles a disinterested zombie on the podium, but his interpretation is vital and suitably dramatic.
The ubiquitous David McVicar’s production with Natalie Dessay and Villazón provides major competition. The action occurs on an austere set surrounded by onlookers (chorus and ballet members) responding to the dramatic action. Dessay is undoubtedly a serious singing actress, who also displays an incredible level of energy. Her light and supple voice is preferable at times, but Netrebko’s vocal richness is probably better suited to Massenet’s music. She also has more power, which serves her well in the St. Sulpice scene. It is a pleasure to watch Netrebko cavort around the stage as if she is a movie star, but Dessay (and McVicar) achieve more intimacy and dramatic intensity. The ultimate choice will probably come down to fans of the individual divas.
The spectacular and ultra-colorful Paterson production looks great on Blu-ray, and all of his artful choreography, sets, and costumes contribute to keeping Massenet’s very long score alive. Audio formats are PCM stereo and PCM and DTS 5.1 surround sound. The surround options contain a slightly larger than usual contribution from the rear speakers that totally immerses you in the listening experience in high-resolution sound. Needless to say, Blu-ray offers visual splendors that are not wasted in this production. The 19-minute behind-the-scenes bonus contributes nothing to your knowledge of Massenet or Manon, but it does reveal where Paterson is coming from, along with the enthusiasm of Netrebko and Villazón. Paterson’s highly original idea for Manon really works, and should make this production, aided by the perfect casting of its stars, an enjoyable experience for operaphiles and neophytes who might be otherwise put off by Massenet’s lengthy score.
Anna Netrebko (Soprano),
Rolando Villazón (Tenor)
Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra,
Berlin State Opera Chorus
Period: Romantic Written: 1883-1884; France