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Massenet: Manon; Debussy, Berlioz / De Los Angeles, Et Al

Release Date: 04/10/2001 
Label:  Testament   Catalog #: 3203   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Jules MassenetClaude DebussyHector Berlioz
Performer:  Henri LegayMichel DensVictoria de los AngelesJean Borthayre,   ... 
Conductor:  Pierre MonteuxCharles Munch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Opéra Comique OrchestraParis Opéra Comique ChorusBoston Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: n/a 
Length: 3 Hours 33 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In Act 2, Manon, reading the letter her lover Des Grieux is writing to his father, sings the line, "nulle voix n'a plus de doux accents" ("no voice has a sweeter sound"). It wouldn't surprise me if Victoria de los Angeles blushed while singing it, for she's perfectly describing her luscious, characterful soprano at the peak of its powers in 1955, when this best of all recorded Manons was made. She encompasses all its moods, from the fragile young Manon on her way to a convent in Act 1, to her exhaustion and death in Act 5. Along the way she makes delectable stops as a passionate, then pining lover, a playful courtesan, and an ardently prayerful penitent in the St. Sulpice Prayer. Her "Adieu, notre petit table" Read more is heartbreaking, because she delivers it with simple regret, avoiding the sentimentality that can turn it to treacle; and her big, self-satisfied Act 3 Gavotte is delivered with a fetching smile in the voice.

Her Des Grieux is Henri Legay, a light-voiced French tenor with a ravishing head voice who observes Massenet's pianissimo markings in his arias and achieves split-second timing in the conversational exchanges. And Legay's legato (try saying that fast) is exemplary. He's not the only singing actor here either; the secondary parts are all well sung and stylishly characterized. Indeed, part of the appeal of this set is the flawless French we hear from an all-French cast with long stage experience in their roles (Angeles, the exception, has perfect French diction).

The honors don't stop on the stage, either, for the octogenarian conductor, Pierre Monteux, leads a fast-moving, fully idiomatic performance. He masters the ebb and flow of the work, so it never feels too fast when he presses forward or too slow when the music calls for greater spaciousness. Getting the tempo relationships right is half the battle, and Monteux's conducting here is an antidote to the current fashion for tempo extremes. Testament's sound favors the voices, but it's ripe and detailed, almost making you forget that it's not stereo. Full texts and translations are provided, too. There are other worthy versions of Manon, including the historic 1923 first recording with Fanny Heldy on Marston and stereo versions starring Beverly Sills (EMI) and, most recently, Angela Gheorghiu (EMI). But this one's still the champ.

Testament makes this reissue even more irresistible by adding generous fillers--Angeles' contemporaneous recordings of Berlioz's Les Nuits d'été and Debussy's La Damoiselle élue, both with the Boston Symphony and Charles Munch. She's quite wonderful in the Berlioz without erasing memories of Régine Crespin (Decca) or Janet Baker (EMI), perhaps because some of the songs seem a bit understated. She's even better in her rapturous singing of the incense-ridden Debussy, though the poor choral work is off-putting. Munch's positive conducting is a plus. But whatever your feelings about the desserts Testament offers, it's the main course that counts and no opera collection should be without this Manon. [6/12/2001]
--Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Manon by Jules Massenet
Performer:  Henri Legay (Tenor), Michel Dens (Baritone), Victoria de los Angeles (Soprano),
Jean Borthayre (Bass), Liliane Berton (Soprano), René Hérent (Tenor),
Jean Vieuille (Baritone), Raymonde Notti (Soprano), Marthe Serres (Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Monteux
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paris Opéra Comique Orchestra,  Paris Opéra Comique Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1884; France 
Language: French 
La damoiselle élue by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Victoria de los Angeles (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1887-1888; France 
Les nuits d'été, Op. 7 by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Victoria de los Angeles (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Munch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840-1841; France 

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