Manon is an opera that grows on me. I like it and appreciate it more every time I see it. I’m sure I saw it in the years before I started writing opera reviews, but if I did, it did not make a lasting impression.
So when I saw the Pocket Opera production a year ago, it was like seeing it for the first time. (Search for my other reviews of Manon on Splash or on my blog.) I had mixed feelings about the opera per se and about the performance of the opera. I wrote a rather lengthy review, more than half of which was about the opera per se — and that part applies to this MetHD production without a single word change. Rather than rewrite it here or quote it at length, I am going to assume that you, the reader, have clicked on the above link and read that review as a preview of this one. Okay? Are you with me?
According to Wikipedia, Anna Netrebko is over 40, married, and has a child. But in Act I, she perfectly portrays Manon as a totally naé¯ve teenager. It is hard to not fall in love with her.
Likewise with Piotr Beczala who is a year or so older in real life and whose Chevalier des Grieux is barely 20.
But oh, our Anna grew up in a hurry. That’s no teenager who aborts des Grieux’ attempt to become a priest.
And she is oh-so-much older in the final tragic act.
In this production, Christophe Mortagne’s interpretation of the role of Guillot de Morfontaine added to the disconnect between the various acts. At the beginning he is played as a bumbling dotard. This is good for a few cheap chuckles, but it is not consistent with his effective meanness in Act IV. In contrast, Pocket Opera’s Michael Mendelsohn played him straight as a dirty old man who knew perfectly well what he was buying with his money.
The Met staging was exceptionally effective in this production. They made really imaginative use of the great height of the stage. In the opening scene, street level is high up above the stage floor, but the inn courtyard where most of the action takes place is at floor-level. Thus as each character enters the scene, he or she starts by descending a long flight of stairs along the back and one side wall — and when the two lovers leave they run up the steps to where Guillot’s coach is presumably waiting.
On the other hand, their little love nest in Paris is obviously a walk-up, and street level is on the basic stage. Singers at today’s Met not only need a world-class voice and great acting ability; they also need strong legs!
Once again, I realize how lucky I am living now and on the Peninsula where on a Saturday I can go to a movie theater and see a grand large-scale opera with its enormous stage and all the hi-tech settings, its magnificent orchestra and chorus, its world-class singers in their fantastic costumes, and its frequent close-ups so I can see the expressions on the singers’ faces. Then on Sunday I can go to Pocket Opera or West Bay Opera and be part of a live audience watching a live performance from a seat close to the stage where the singers are young and pretty with voices that fill the small space with the same intensity that a world-class singer can fill the cavernous Lincoln Center auditorium. As if that were not enough, I can go to War Memorial Hall and see San Francisco Opera and a visiting star such as Domingo, Fleming, or Voigt along with a few thousand other people even if I’m a quarter-mile away from the stage. And four times a year I go to the in-between sized Opera San Jose with some of advantages of both large and small, plus, since they are a resident company, I have the pleasure of seeing the same singer in many different roles.
Life doesn’t get any better than this!
Live in HD
Photos, except as noted: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
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cast in order of vocal appearance
Guillot de Morfontaine
Lescaut, Manon’s cousin
Chevalier des Grieux
Count des Grieux
Assistant to the Costume Designer
Assistant Stage Directors
Stage Band Conductor
Scenery, properties, and electrical props constructed and painted by
– Royal Opera House Production Departments, Covent Garden, London; and
– Metropolitan Opera Shops
Costumes executed by
– Royal Opera House Production Departments, Covent Garden, London;
– Théªé¡tre du Capitole, Tolouse;
– Metropolitan Opera Costume Department
– Saint Laurie Merchant Tailors
– Studio Rouge
– Das Gewand Gmbh
Wigs by Metropolitan Opera Wig Department
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on April 20, 2012.