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01 May, 2012

Met Manon magnificent

Manon by Massenet 7.30 - 11.30pm Monday 22nd April Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Dear Colleagues,

Notes on performances at the Met seem almost passé these days when one can listen to every performance as well as seeing the HD video transmissions beamed into remote places (even Bowral, New South Wales, where I now live half the week).

However, at the risk of bragging that “I am in New York” as well as possibly giving superfluous information I hope my few words are still amusing and/or informative. I should also describe something about the overall experience of attending this enormous opera barn, the second largest in the world and certainly the busiest. However, the Met is NOT the most expensive by any means - just look up their excellent web site - lots of good opera positions for $100 or less plus standing room for very modest sums.

This Manon outing was splendid with Ms Netrebko being ‘hot’ in every respect. She has a large and beautiful voice, stunning looks and brilliant acting abilities. She is Manon to a tee … and for five action-filled acts, one with two scenes, one being a cloister, not for Manon as originally intended by her family, but her estranged paramour the young Des Grieux.

Polish tenor Piotr Beczala sang this challenging role with great aplomb even though as this month’s Opera News points out that the ideal French tenor hardly exists today. In Manon, along with a full dramatic and vocal book, he is required to sing two phenomenally difficult and contrasting arias, ‘En fermant les yeux’ and ‘Ah! Fuyez douce image’. Beczala succeeded with style, emotion and dignity. [I heard that he also sang ‘Leve-toi soleil’ at a concert this week in California which was reported to be rapturously received.]

Pelly’s new co-production with London is quirky and eclectic with skylines of little box houses, church steeple, bridges, etc then strange leaning angles and Escher-type perspectives … very clever and very ‘different’ from the traditional productions. This is the new trend at the Met - to do new ‘takes’ on popular operas without losing the dramatic realism New York audiences seem to want. And these days there always seems to be an eye on the cinematic possibilities as these are beamed to a far wider audience that in the theatre itself.

In a very French way Pelly nearly always does the opposite of what one might expect … for example, instead of a carriage and horses in Act I we have the appearance of a large assortment of luggage. Rather than Des Grieux caressing Manon at the end of the St Suplice scene, it is Manon who practically assaults the cleric, ripping his dog’s collar and shirt half off and pulling him into the tiny bed in the priest’s quarters as the curtain drops.

The other scenes use wide ramps in opposing directions, black and grey contrasting with bright colours. There is an almost archetypical French female ballet scene with 16 immaculate white-frocked dancers in the street for Manon’s benefit (it could be Swan Lake), but she ignores Guillot’s ballet on overhearing the current abode of Des Grieux across Paris. The final scene is just a drab waterfront with some street lamps on the left and a jetty and warehouse on the right and massive expanse of blue beyond, presumably Atlantic gloom.

Baritone Paolo Szot was replaced by Michael Todd Simpson who sang creditably. The latter sang Escamillo in Sydney some years ago. The older Des Grieux was well sung by rich-voiced basso David Pittsinger. The French language seemed passable to me but some French nationals sitting nearby told me that it was often less than comprehensible, ‘fifty-fifty’ they said … except for Guillot de Monfontaine (Christophe Mortagne) who is French himself. Other roles were all acquitted well while Fabio Luisi and his orchestra received a well deserved ovation. This busy maestro will conduct Traviata on Wednesday, Rhinegold on Thursday and Die Walkure on Saturday. Some schedule!

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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