OPERA NEWS - Manon Lescaut
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In Review > North America

Manon Lescaut

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Manon Lescaut Netrebko lg 217
Intriguing spectacle: Netrebko as Manon, Act II
© Johan Elbers

THE SOUND THAT EMERGED from Anna Netrebko’s throat in her very first words as Puccini’s Manon announced that the convent was out of the question: the soprano’s timbre promised voluptuous delight. Netrebko’s voice, judging by what was heard at the Met on the November 14 opening night of this season’s Manon Lescaut revival, keeps getting darker and richer. If anything, it was too lush for the country girl of Act I, but it marvelously suited the courtesan of Act II and the tragic heroine of the opera’s conclusion. As usual, the Russian soprano delivered dramatic as well as vocal thrills. Her full-throttle commitment gave unusual coherence to the character. Despite the gaping dramatic lacuna between the first two acts, she let us see that Manon’s adoration of des Grieux remained constant; her leave-taking in Act III, which can get lost amid the bustle of the embarkation scene, here became a moment of unbearable pathos. 

Netrebko was so compelling that she almost, but not quite, succeeded in redeeming Richard Eyre’s production, first offered here in February 2016. On my second viewing, I still could find no particular logic in Eyre’s transposition of the opera to Occupied France. Still, in her form-fitting sequined Act II dress, Netrebko conjured the ghosts of bygone screen sex goddesses—an intriguing spectacle, if not one that offered much insight into Manon Lescaut. The quasi lap dance that Manon executed in place of the minuet suited neither the middle of the twentieth century nor the beginning of the eighteenth: Netrebko is a performer who does nothing by halves, but at this particular moment, I wished she would back off a bit. But in Act IV, when she stood at the lip of the stage to deliver “Sola, perduta, abbandonata,” Eyre’s production concept all but vanished from view: here was a diva in her element, delivering Puccinian emotion on as grand a scale as possible. 

Des Grieux calls for a more heroically proportioned sound than Marcelo Álvarez can by nature produce. In compensation, the Argentine tenor delivered much of the role in pressured, unpoetic gusts. Christopher Maltman, a saturnine presence as Lescaut, was in fine voice, but he was blunt rather than insinuating when plotting his sister’s abduction. (Perhaps the diffuse acoustic of Rob Howell’s set dictated his delivery.) Brindley Sherratt’s Geronte avoided buffo cliché: one could see how this proud businessman could see himself as a plausible mate for a delectable young woman. The stage business given to Zach Borichevsky insisted too heavily on Edmondo’s boyish appeal; this likable tenor would have been more charming if he hadn’t been made to work so hard at it. Avery Amereau, in her company debut, brought a smooth, chocolaty mezzo to the madrigal. 

The evening had some moments of rough musical ensemble, but conductor Marco Armiliato kept the show moving vigorously, bringing out the youthful energy of Puccini’s musical invention, and finding the heartbeat in the intermezzo. —Fred Cohn

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