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Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Manon - opéra-comique in 5 acts (1884)
Natalie Dessay (soprano) – Manon Lescaut; Rolando Villazon (tenor) – Le Chevalier Des Grieux; Manuel Lanza (baritone) – Lescaut; Samuel Ramey (bass) – Le Comte Des Grieux; Francisco Vas (tenor) – Guillot de Morfontaine; Didier Henry (baritone) – De Brétigny; and several others
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu/Victor Pablo Pérez
Stage director: David McVicar; Sets and costumes: Tanya McCallin; Lighting: Paule Constable; Choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan; Directed for television by François Roussillon
rec. live, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 24, 27, 30 June 2007
Bonus programme: “Natalie Dessay with Rolando Villazon – Manon in Barcelona” an hour-long documentary showing Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazon rehearsing with stage director David McVicar.
Sound format: LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.0 Surround, DTS 5.0 Surround
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50506897 (2 DVDs) [175:00]


Experience Classicsonline


‘Thank God! It is played in period costume!’ my wife exclaimed when the performance started – a remark that shows that today this is almost a sensation. This performance is indeed a sensation in more than one respect. First of all it is a lavish production, very beautiful, with evocative lighting. The ballet has a field-day in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s expressive choreography. Although the chorus and orchestra, as well as the conductor, are Spanish there is a true French flavour about the performance and David McVicar’s direction has many enlightening points. One is the theatre-within-the-theatre concept in the first act where the backdrop is a section from a theatre with on-lookers following the proceedings.

Opera-goers used to Puccini’s Manon Lescaut may initially feel that Massenet’s opera, which was premiered nine years before Puccini’s, has a slower pulse; Puccini was well aware of the differences in temperament. When he was warned that his Manon project was risky, since the public got an opportunity to compare the works, he replied: “Massenet treated the subject as a Frenchman, with refinement and grace. I will treat it as an Italian, with violent passion.” This refinement is well looked after here in Victor Pablo Pérez’s reading and one has opportunities time and again to marvel at the atmospheric scoring and the enticing melodies. It is a long work. Massenet’s librettists Meilhac and Gille included more of Abbé Prevost’s story, even though Manon dies on the way to Le Havre. Puccini sticks to Prevost and his Manon dies in the plains of North America.

Manon is regarded by many as Massenet’s best opera but it wasn’t immediately recognized as a masterpiece by the critics and took quite some time before it became famous. In 1952 it received its 2000th performance in Paris but during the last three or four decades it seems that Werther has been more frequently played. Those who are still unfamiliar with Manon should without delay invest in this set and I am convinced that they will be bounteously rewarded.

O, sorry! I haven’t mentioned the soloists yet. Without excellent singers – and actors – in the leading parts even so lavish a production will fall flat. The cast list is long. In the accompanying inlay 31 actors are listed and if there was any justice in this sordid world they should all be mentioned by name and role; let me just say that they all do a good job. Francisco Vas as Guillot and Didier Henry as De Brétigny make distinctive role portraits. Veteran Samuel Ramey is an authoritative Le Comte Des Grieux, but vocally he is past his best.

Manuel Lanza, on the other hand, is in healthy voice and also impresses greatly as an actor. Rolando Villazon sings with his accustomed insight and glowing lyricism. His arias are glistening gems, while Natalie Dessay once again proves what a phenomenal singer she is. There seem to be no technical obstacles for her and she draws a deep probing psychological portrait of her Manon. Together she and Villazon are a superbly well matched couple. As a whole this is one of the best sung DVD performances I have seen.

Göran Forsling 



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