Massenet: Manonby Marcelo Álvarez, Renée Fleming
Sir Thomas Beecham, the quick-witted English conductor, claimed that he'd gladly trade in all of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos for Massenet's opera Manon. Of course, Beecham was playing the provocateur -- a role he relished -- at a time (a half century ago) when Massenet's music was though to be insipid and jejune. Yet to the contrary, Massenet is among the most charming of composers, as many opera lovers are discovering. Sopranos certainly are not willing to part with Manon, a particularly toothsome role that combines sensuality, elegance, and pathos into a brew that -- in the right hands -- can be as delectable as, say, Puccini's La Bohème. Indeed, Renée Fleming, America's reigning diva, has admitted outright that this is her favorite role of all. Listening to this live recording from the Opéra National de Paris, one understands her choice, for Massenet, like Richard Strauss (another Fleming specialty), knew how to make the soprano voice sparkle and shimmer. Manon is a coquette who slays every man who comes into contact with her; she is a force of nature, in a way, a creature of passion, yet she is also quite delicate. Fleming encompasses all of these traits, drawing in the listener as well as her suitors with sweetness and velvet. Her ardor is palpable in the marvelous Saint-Sulpice scene in the second half of Act III, as she lures her lover Des Grieux out of the seminary where he went to escape her wiles. Des Grieux is also a terrific role, one that lyric voices have prized for a century now. Marcelo Álvarez emphasizes the young aristocrat's sensitive side, crooning his arias in a dreamy pianissimo. The rest of the cast is also fine, particularly the firm Lescaut of Jean-Luc Chaignaud. Perhaps Antonio Pappano, who conducts the EMI recording with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna, elicits more sparkle from his orchestra, but Jésus López-Cobos offers more than sufficient theatrical flair, and one can feel the extra frisson of a live performance here that's missing in the otherwise excellent EMI version. The audience is well behaved throughout, though they applaud enthusiastically at the ends of scenes and acts. Note, too, that a DVD is being released of this same production, for those who want to enjoy the visual element.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsMarcelo Álvarez Primary Artist
Renée Fleming Primary Artist
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