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Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Manon - opera in five acts (1884)
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille after Antoine-François Prévost’s novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731)
Manon Lescaut – Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
Chevalier Des Grieux – Roberto Alagna (tenor)
Le Comte des Grieux – Jose van Dam (bass)
Lescaut – Earle Patriarco (baritone)
Guillot de Morfontaine – Gilles Ragon (tenor)
De Brétigny – Nicolas Rivenq (bass)
Chorus and orchestra of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels/Antonio Pappano
rec. Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels, June 2000. DDD.
EMI CLASSICS 3818422 [3 CDs: 67.45 + 55.05 + 40.16]
Experience Classicsonline

This mid-price reissue of Pappano’s Brussels “Manon” is sure to maintain its popularity, even amongst the ranks of other justifiably famous recordings. Germaine Féraldy, Victoria de los Angeles, Beverly Sills and Ileana Cotrubaş have all, in their time, held sway as leaders in the title role. If Cotrubaş under Plasson, also for EMI, arguably recorded the work slightly late in her career to be caught in fully resplendent bloom of tone, her compatriot Angela Gheorghiu left nothing to chance in that respect. The recording is one of the most successful amongst her earlier studio roles for EMI. As such it is the perfect companion for the equally successful recording of “Werther”, recorded around the same time.
Tonal quality by itself is not enough to secure such a strong recommendation for any artist in any opera: there has to be characterisation too. This Gheorghiu provides aplenty. It’s a role that she fully inhabits and the emotional identification with the part is palpable.
There are other seriously strong aspects to this recording as well. Roberto Alagna makes for an ardent Chevalier Des Grieux, forthright of tone and sentiment throughout> He also avoids the slightly barked production that has occasionally come to mar his singing in recent years. It is a stylish portrayal, even if not quite as subtle as the still sorely missed Alfredo Kraus. José van Dam reprises the Comte Des Grieux, a role he had recorded some 18 years earlier also alongside Kraus and Cotrubaş. Still in fine voice, his position as the virtual house baritone of La Monnaie during the Pappano tenure is amply justified. If anything the extra graininess in his more mature voice imparts extra gravitas to the reading. Many of the other cast members – Gilles Ragon and Nicolas Rivenq – were at that time on the upward run towards international careers via time spent in various Belgian houses. Whichever way you look at it Sophie Koch is star casting in the role of Javotte.
For me though what clinches this set is Pappano’s conducting. There is no denying his way with Massenet – far from an easy composer to realise – and he brings out passion without losing sight of the Gallic roots of the music. Tragedy seems to permeate every bar from the start, with vital playing from the Monnaie orchestra. It is hard to believe that they were quite so scathing about Pappano’s conducting in Brussels as they were. What musicians can dislike, microphones can love. You only have to hear this recording to know how true that can be.
Evan Dickerson


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