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15 December, 2008

Manon from Berlin on DVD - magic night at the opera, at home!

Manon by Massenet. Berlin Staatsoper April/May 2007. Deutsche Grammophon DVD of live performance.

Manon - Anna Netrebko
Chevalier des Grieux - Rolando Villazon
Comte des Grieux - Christof Fisch Esser
Lescaut - Alfredo Daza
Guillot de Morfontaine - Remy Corazza
Bretigny – Arttu Kataja
Grisettes – Hanan Alattar, Gal James, Silvia de la Muela
Innkeeper – Matthias Vieweg

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Director: Vincent Paterson
Stage design: Johannes Leiacker
Costumes: Susan Hilferty
Chorus and orchestra of Staatsoper, Unter den Linden, Berlin.

Dear Colleagues,

I am still reeling from the beauty and sheer class of this magnificent live opera from Berlin. It shows just what can be done with talent, imagination and a true operatic masterpiece. I have not enjoyed an opera so much for years, live or recorded! Second and third viewings have yielded even more pleasures in a clever, up-dated and sympathetic production with top rate singers, dancers, actors and musicians. The character development, main love theme, side stories and final disastrous denouement are all absolutely captivating.

The opera seems perfectly credible in the mid 20th century as long as one takes Manon’s capital crime as more than just cohabiting (there is an implication that she has stolen money from Guillot).

The opera opens in a bustling grand railway concourse where Manon emerges from a huge crowd to be first greeted and then lectured by her cousin soldier Lescaut. We also meet the scheming veteran Guillot who tries to befriend the young lady while Lescaut is away briefly. Next, during a slightly longer absence at the barracks, a more intense and yet equally hopeless liaison commences.

Chevalier Des Grieux takes her attentions. His self-conscious boyish behaviour is most engaging for both audience and the object of his attention. He is in a school blazer and his shirt is hanging out. Netrebko and Villazon become lovers within minutes, yielding the first of many glorious scenes which New York publicity called “a chemistry lesson”!

Next we have a light-hearted rustic boudoir scene with pillow fight in underwear. Our cupid-struck couple are self involved and enraptured. And they again sing expressively with their characteristic interactions.

Netrebko adds some soft porn to her famous aria bidding farewell to their little table which so often brought them together. She showing a deal of flesh while lying face up on the very table she is singing about. Following the applause for Villazon’s glorious rendition of ‘The Dream’ we hear an urgent double ring on a modern electronic door bell ‘ding-dong, ding-dong’, reminding us that we are in 1950 … and that the plotters are calling, meaning that the lovers are about to go their separate ways.

The outdoor jour-de-fete scene sees Netrebko at her most evocative in her famous gavotte. Guillot brings the ballet to the open air and also pays for the drinks. The short but intense ‘pas de trios’ dance scene involves two men and a woman as the opera’s three protagonists. An unusually tall dancer represents Des Grieux while an attractive female along with her uniformed ‘protector’ made a synchronous and appealing burst of movement, beauty and energy. The ballet does not have the desired effect as Guillot is left alone while Manon calls for a carriage to seek out her Chevalier on his monastic mission.

In the Saint Suplice scene we now hear Villazon at his best in “Ah fuyez, douce image” which is answered by another rapprochement between the lovers.

The Hotel le Transylvanie Casino scene could be in Las Vegas itself with the bright lights, dance and seemingly modern music. After some festivities, drinking, gambling and alleged cheating or even theft the authorities are involved rather like prohibition scenes in old movies.

The Louisiana scene (actually ‘the road to Le Havre’ in the Massenet version) sees pathetic changes as a waisted waif who started out the hale novice brunette, developed a Marilyn Monroe shocking blond by act IV but by now is grey and thinning. The death scene is ravishing, as the tenor carries our soprano off into the sunset (exactly like the Disney spoof on Wagner, limp arm dangling).

The chorus, solo singers and actors are all of the highest standard in this performance. Even the extras seem to have been chosen based on individuality.

Maestro Daniel Barenboim draws things together without drawing attention overly to himself or his excellent orchestra. They take the final curtain call, smaller instruments in hand, centre stage - well deserved and apposite. The trade-mark Berlin on-stage spot-lights were still in place from the death scene.

The overall performance is opera at its very best in my estimation. Highly recommended.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

Dr Andrew Byrne MB BS (Syd) FAChAM (RACP)
Dependency Medicine,
75 Redfern Street, Redfern,
New South Wales, 2016, Australia
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