by BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
Deneuve and Frey
© Photos 12/Alamy 2012
Essential Performance of Manon's Gavotte: Natalie Dessay with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, May 15, 2011. In singing competitions, the opening strains of "Je marche sur tous les chemins" have come to fill us with dread: it's long, it's complex, and too many young artists give it a monochromatic young-girl-strutting-her-stuff interpretation. No one we have heard onstage has ever sung it with the thrilling completeness that Dessay managed at Carnegie Hall. Underneath the bravado, she provided us with an unforgettable glimpse of Manon's fragility — a sense that perhaps she should not have said adieu to that petite table. As the gavotte went on, Manon's gutsiness and her fears kept bumping into each other; without descending into caricature, Dessay revealed the narcissist within. And anyone who has ever left home in any sense of the word surely recalled what it felt like in her moving performance.
Essential Updated Manon:
Manon 70. This 1968 version of the Abbé Prévost novel sets the story amid the frills of 1960s Paris (ping-pong games, dress fittings and discotheques seem to mask all important conversations) and Nice, where panoramas of the Mediterranean and a Chris Craft decorate most shots. Director Jean Aurel advances the copious jealousy in the story with heavy use of surveillance (mirrors, recording equipment, characters watching characters through car windows, and a somewhat dated private-dick subplot). Guillot becomes an American oil-company executive and Manon a vague call girl/model. Sami Frey nails the impetuousness of des Grieux (a news reporter), right from the beautifully shot opening scene, set in an airport. Frey's des Grieux is at times fascinating and intense, at times a barbaric loser. Yet we never doubt that his Manon, Catherine Deneuve, is worth all the trouble. Broadcast coverage of the Met's new production ofManon begins onp. 40.
Essential Leitmotif Crash Course:
An Introduction to
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen, by Deryck Cooke, with Georg Solti and Wiener Philharmoniker (Decca). We'd venture to say that consuming a Ring cycle without some knowledge of Wagner's musical themes is about as impertinent as reading Joyce's Ulysses without a map of Dublin. With this recording, musicologist Cooke provides a roadmap for the Ring, reducing the leitmotifs in the fifteen-hour tetralogy to about two and a half hours' worth of explanation. Cooke parses the motifs into categories (characters, objects, events and emotion), then explains how they are disseminated throughout the cycle. The success of the recording lies in how Cooke supports every statement he makes with a musical example from Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic — a labor of love, considering that in 1968, someone, Cooke perhaps, had to splice together a lot of reel-to-reel tape. Philip Kennicott examines the ethos of the Ring, "Ring of Truth."
Essential Patricia Neway Performance: "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." In the late 1950s, when the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music was being cast, there was some hesitation over who was going to play the key role of the Mother Abbess. Richard Rodgers was keen to have Claramae Turner, the molten-voiced contralto who had appeared in the 1956 screen version of Carousel. But The Sound of Music's star, Mary Martin, always insecure about her singing, nixed the idea, fearing she would suffer in comparison. It's hard to understand why she wasn't equally afraid of the woman who got the part — Patricia Neway, a superb New York City Opera artist who also happened to be a gifted actress. On YouTube, catch the clip of Neway singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," and you can see why she earned that year's Tony for best featured actress in a musical. This was a performer who seems to have given it everything she had, each time she went onstage. A funny side bit in the clip: Ed Sullivan praises The Sound of Music as "It's gay! It's amusing!" — a hilariously Sullivanesque way to characterize a musical about a postulant who rejects her vows during the rise of Nazism. See F. Paul Driscoll's remembrance of Neway, "Coda: An American Original."
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT