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Manon: Staatskapelle Berlin (Barenboim) [Blu-ray] 
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From the Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin comes a dazzling new Manon production starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazn. Following the artistic and commercial success of their last DVD project, La Traviata from the 2005 Salzburg Festival, opera superstars Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazn bring their combined talents to Jules Massenets Manon. Netrebko was born to play the title role: her voice and body language capturing the fluctuating personality of the complex Manon, one minute girlish, the next introspective. She is a real stage animal, constantly reacting to what is happening around her, wrote Opera of her performance. Villazn is compelling as Des Grieux, expressing all the burning passion of the doomed lover in his burnished, supple tenor. This is a production with a distinct Hollywood touch: first-time opera director Vincent Paterson has previously worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney and staged several Broadway musicals. He has already enjoyed great success with his first classical DVD project for DG: The Woman The Voice featuring Anna Netrebko. Given his show-business background, Paterson interprets Manon as a Hollywood cinematic tale for the opera stage with Massenets colourful music as a kind of soundtrack. The press raved about the opera event of the year in Berlin, while the live public screening of one of the performances in the square in front of the opera house attracted an audience of more than 20,000 people. Musically, the production is equally accomplished. The Staatskapelle Berlin is conducted by Daniel Barenboim, who infuses the appealing melodies with colour and is finely attuned to the emotional fragility they express. Sddeutsche Zeitung This is a Manon that will appeal across the spectrum: to lovers of opera, movies and Hollywood. A glittering production filled with beautiful people with gorgeous voices!
Top customer reviews
Dessay is a natural French speaker, Villazon is obviously not, and at times it sounds like they are almost singing in different languages, and his Italianate sound is sometimes too strong to overlook. And yet, his rendition of "En fermant les yeux" is so stunningly beautiful it could make grown men weep, and is the best moment on the whole disc. Just watch Dessay as she "acts" in response to his singing during this aria, and for a moment you can believe in them! Dessay is very athletic and physical in her performances, and this one is no different; her singing is very good, but sometimes I was too conscious of her acting for effect, rather than inhabiting the role.
The production by David McVicar is in a static set, the chorus as audience in galleries behind the stage, with a few props in each scene to suggest the setting; but rather than focus attention on the performers, I found it a little dull and unimaginative. The St Sulpice scene, for example, is set on a bare stage with a few chairs, which is perhaps meant to represent a church, but the power of Des Grieux' downfall before his God is somewhat diluted by this non-commital staging. The orchestral playing is fine under Victor Pablo Perez, and the supporting cast are satisfactory but not memorable (including Sam Ramey in unfortunate vocal decline).
So why watch this recording? Ultimately, for the opera itself - one of Massenet's finest achievements - and for the performances of Dessay and Villazon who deliver moments of greatness, it's just unfortunate that they cannot sustain the whole evening in such coruscating form.
The McVicar production here is basically set in period but does not rise to the heights of his remarkable Rigoletto at the Royal Opera or his Le Nozze de Figaro at Glyndebourne.
This is possibly the best of the Massenet operas and does at least avoid the problems of Puccini's ending of the similar story with Manon's death in the Florida desert! The, perhaps controversially updated setting of the Villazon/Netrebko with Barenboim at the helm, is still for me the best bet as I feel the musical values are more reliable. In this I am not alone and I would suggest looking at the reviews of that set before buying this.
Otherwise the sound here is well recorded both visually and sonically and the camera work is sympathetic.
In this performance Villazon and Dessay capture the personalities to perfection, both in their acting and singing. This is not to detract from the other lead singers who portray their roles to perfection. Samuel Ramey as Le Comte De Grieux has however developed a long deep slow vibrato which is not to my taste, his tone is fine but this is a minor point within the whole performance.
The set is imaginative, with at times the chorus becoming an audience, and even scene shifters, but this all blends in to the whole experience. In reality this is one set with changes of accessories, it is brilliantly done.
Costumes are fitting to the period, down to earth and feel appropriate.
I find that David McVicar either leaves me bewildered or marvelling at his quirky view, in this case the latter. There are minor characters hovering in unexpected places, but it works. I have two other versions of Manon, but they seem relatively boring.
This is among my most played DVDs.
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