Teatro dell' Opera
Audience conqueror: Netrebko as Puccini's Manon in Rome, with Eyvazov as des Grieux
© Silvia Lelli 2014
Riccardo Muti has led an average of two productions a year at the Teatro dell' Opera in recent seasons, and his performances are often sold out. But for the company's new staging of Manon Lescaut,directed by the maestro's daughter, Chiara Muti, the demand for tickets exceeded supply to a degree rarely equaled in Italy today. The presence of the star conductor on the podium for Manon Lescaut was reinforced by the onstage presence of a star singer of similar interpretive caliber — Anna Netrebko. This production marked Netrebko's debut as Puccini's heroine, and on March 6, at her third performance of the run, the role seemed made to measure for her talents. Netrebko sang and acted with an ease and sincerity that could not but conquer the audience, aided no doubt by the conductor's coaching (her projection of the Italian text was both idiomatic and moving), and by a voice still fresh but sufficiently dense to fill the most emotionally charged climaxes with soaring tone. The soprano's feeling for portamento — indispensable in this music — lent gratifying psychological continuity to the melodic lines, and her stagecraft combined charm, sensuality, spontaneity and tragic feeling, with no details either over- or underplayed.
Muti himself seemed inspired by her presence and much more at ease in this score than at his 1998 La Scala performances with Maria Guleghina and José Cura (one of which is available on DVD). His was a nobly conceived reading, hardly visceral in the emotional impact of the orchestral playing but musically thoughtful and unusually flexible in its pulse, with well-judged rubatos throughout. And he proved a considerate accompanist to all the singers, providing plenty of breathing space for his des Grieux, the young Russian tenor Yusif Eyvazov, whose voice is dark and sturdy with an easy top, combining base and pure metals in a manner that recalls Aureliano Pertile, an artist much admired by Puccini in this role. Eyvazov's vocal placement, however, tends to vary as he moves up and down the scale; his words, unlike those of his leading lady, hardly projected eloquently, although his pronunciation was accurate enough.
The finest male performer onstage was Carlo Lepore, whose Geronte was a masterly portrayal that confirmed the vocal and physical charisma of this fine bass-baritone, who turned the elderly roué into a formidable rival for des Grieux and a more dignified figure than Giorgio Caoduro's totally unprincipled Lescaut. The baritone, who sang efficiently, emphasized that character's cynicism rather than his intermittent generosity of spirit, to rather disheartening effect.
The supporting cast, though not so fine as at La Scala, was generally more than competent, and the choral singing was particularly impressive in the Act III ensemble, which Muti paced tellingly, as did director Muti, who kept the two lovers close to the front of the stage during the climax of this scene, so that they could effortlessly dominate both chorus and orchestra.
The sets and costumes by Carlo Centolavigna and Alessandro Lai were relatively traditional (although there were no powdered wigs on display), but the narrative was conceived as a (Prévost-inspired?) flashback for des Grieux, with the fatal (and topographically improbable) Louisiana desert of the last act (by far the most striking scene visually) encroaching on the earlier settings as well. This idea would have worked more logically if Eyvazov (whose costumes tended to highlight his cumbrous figure) had projected a stronger and more dominant personality, but it undoubtedly lent an extra degree of metaphorical poignancy to Manon's "In quelle trine morbide" (greeted with an ovation for Netrebko), in which the emotional aridity of the "alcova dorata" was brought home by the desolate sands visible through the windows of the rococo salon.
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