Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

CD Button Netrebko; Eyvazov, Piña, Chausson; Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsoper, M. Armiliato. Text and translation. DG 028947968283 (2)

Recordings Manon Lescaut Cover 417
Critics Choice Button 1015

ANNA NETREBKO'S Manon Lescaut is anything but a Puccinian “little woman.” As presented by the Russian soprano, the courtesan is very much the mistress of her own fate. She may curse her “fatal beauty,” but she’s aware of its effect on men and the control it offers her.

Netrebko’s physical presence was a significant part of her portrayal when she brought it to the Met earlier this season. But the audio-only experience on this disc is still thoroughly satisfying, with abundant vocal glamour serving as an aural manifestation of the character’s allure. Her voice, its timbre beautifully captured by DG’s engineers, retains its radiance throughout its range and at all dynamics. The flood of sound she unleashes at “Tu, tu, amore tu” conveys the depths of Manon’s passion; the core of vulnerability in the timbre shows that, courtesan though she may be, the woman has a beating heart. In the work’s closing moments, Netrebko’s singing combines eerie quietude with hall-filling luminescence. To judge her by the highest standards imaginable, she displays neither the textual specificity nor the rhythmic exactitude of Maria Callas (on her 1957 EMI recording), but her work is theatrically charged at every moment, and her portrayal of Puccini’s heroine is completely convincing. 

None of the other elements of this recording, captured during a series of concert performances at the Salzburg Festival last summer, is quite at Netrebko’s level. Des Grieux falls to Yusif Eyvazov, the diva’s husband. He is (from the evidence here) an alert, dramatically responsive performer. He suggests the young man’s extremes of ardor and despair. But the sounds he produces are often unappealing—pressured above, hoarse below. The sweeping lyricism of the role’s vocal writing goes unrealized.

Armando Piña is a puzzling Lescaut, sounding more like a basso buffo than a lyric baritone, interjecting squeaks and grunts that would be better suited to Dr. Bartolo than to Manon’s scheming brother. But Carlos Chausson is a fine Geronte, sober and unexaggerated. Benjamin Bernheim, as Edmondo, displays a promising lyric tenor, if not an ideal degree of insouciance. Szilvia Vörös offers dark, appealing tone in the madrigal, but she sings her song heavily.

Marco Armiliato’s rendition is not the most fastidious: one wonders whether ad hoc circumstances prevented his forces from achieving optimal ensemble. For instance, “Per me tu lotti,” the agitated Act II duettino for Lescaut and Manon, here becomes a pile-on; in more finely gauged readings (such as Tullio Serafin’s on the Callas discs), each moment of the passage has its own weight and purpose. Still, Armiliato conveys the work’s vitality and confidence, especially in the exuberant Act I, reminding us that Manon Lescaut is the opera in which Puccini first gained possession of his mature compositional powers. —Fred Cohn 

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