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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 6 April 2009
This is a live performance (or rather editing of 3 performances from 2007) from Berlin of a production by Vincent Paterson originally seen in Los Angeles.

Updated to the 1950s, Manon is an aspiring wannabe, obsessed with glossy magazines featuring her film star idols, and the opera is told in a series of film-style vignettes, with Manon changing her image as much as her underwear! From Audrey Hepburn-like naivete at the beginning, through to Marilyn Monroe-stunner, she is a chameleon of her times, desperate for fame, and would certainly have been on Big Brother if it had been invented then! Generally this updating works very well, and unusually for a modern production, doesn't get in the way of the plot. The staging of the St Sulpice scene works extremely well with the distanced lovers meeting once again through the chancel railings - who in the relationship is the "caged bird" and who is free?

Bring on the stars - tickets don't get much hotter than this, with Netrebko and Villazon heading the cast. Neither of them are natural French singers, and to be honest, half the time you wouldn't be able to tell what language they are singing in. Netrebko's consonant-less soprano and Villazon's latino warmness does not = Massenet. And yet, despite all the odds against them, and despite my better judgement, the two singers gripped me throughout, making this a stunningly moving portrayal that actually merits the hype! Barenboim conducts (apparently at short notice with just days to learn the score), and although I've never seen a grumpier conductor at the curtain call, he manages to serve Massenet well and bring lightness and sweeping emotion to the score.

Manon is a stunning opera, full of wonderful melodies and heart-wrenching scenes, and I shall enjoy watching this recording again and again.
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on 21 September 2013
Staging: this Paris may be what americains soldiers may have seen of France's capital in the forties. Or is it really? To me it is an unsavoury mix of 50's fashion (some dresses are really pretty but if i had wanted a fashion show i wouldn't have bought an opera on DVD) some 60's fashion, some seedy and cheesy settings in the Hotel de Transylvanie and the worst ever curtain, all fake gold and half translucid...Vinyl, please...
Villazon has some golden moments, unfortunately they are ... moments. I was not impressed by his -ah, fuyez, douce image- in the slightest, his voice in totally uneven and there are notes that simply don't come out at all. I felt sorry because I bought this DVD to hear him before his misadventures took him off the best scenes and because yes I used to really like his "timbre" (timber/ tone ? in english?)
Ana Netrebko looks adorable though much older than the character she is supposed to be (16) and her honeyed tone takes us to heaven. Well...that's only if you're not a french speaker. Being one, i was sorely disappointed by the weakeness in pronounciation from both main singers.
Mr Des Grieux,father, is excellent as usual. Check him in Munich's Lohengrin with JK and Ana Harteros.
Overall, staging felt fake and aimed at an american audience (the one that has a stereotypical knowledge of historical Paris only, of course ;-) and the singing was mostly disappointing and so un-french.
This is a Paris for ignorant tourists and i wouldn't think any opera audience would fit that description. It is barely better than says a lot...
Manon was performed in Chicago in 2008 - Jonas Kaufmann and Nathalie Dessay- anybody knows how to get a copy of that?
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Like the Donizetti Love Potion, this also teams up Villazon and Netrebko to completely believable effect. Both are in good voice although there are a few early signs of the vocal strain which has recently caused Villazon problems leading to unreliable engagements. These are not of any real significance here though and should not affect any purchasing choice. The problem may stem from his apparent reluctance to hold back his enthusiasm to deliver fully in performance rather than saving his voice whenever possible. This is good for his audiences but is a potentially heavy long term price for Villazon. He certainly gives 100% here.

The setting is updated to the 1950's, but both Villazon and Netrebko have an aura about them that suggests a modern coupling would be appropriate. They are especially vibrant together and are clearly of an appropriate age for each other dramatically. This is a great advantage in any opera but is especially beneficial in this setting. Netrebko brings a dramatic aura of both glamour and decadence to her part and is in particularly good voice. The part seems made for her.

All the supporting roles are well sung and convincingly portrayed by Christof Fischesser, Alfredo Daza, Remy Corazza, Arttu Kataja, Hanan Alattar, Gal James, Silvia de la Muela and Mattias Vieweg although inevitably the limelight is dominated by Anna Netrebko and to a lesser extent, by Rolando Villazon.

The orchestra is also on top form under the sparkling direction of Barenboim.

The recording offers excellent surround sound in DTS 5.1, PCM 5.1 as well as stereo. The camera work is sympathetic with a nice balance of close detail and more distant shots. As another reviewer has remarked, it is vital that good singing is backed up by good acting in opera especially when the storyline is so slight and we are certainly offered a combination of fine singing and acting in this case. Fortunately we live in an age when the old stand and deliver approach has been replaced by far better stage training and camera awareness and that is what we get here.

In general terms, although I personally like the modern setting, I feel that there will be those who would prefer a more traditional staging and it should be noted that this production may not therefore be to everyone's personal taste. The musical values remain excellent however whatever views one may have on production choices and this performance certainly went down well with the audience. Providing that purchasers are prepared to accept the period updating to the 1950's this disc should give considerable pleasure. With that proviso in mind, it seems reasonable to suggest that 5 stars is a fair rating for those in sympathy with this modernised concept and that those who would reject that should look elsewhere for their choice of Manon.
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on 23 February 2009
The new Manon with Netrebko & Villazon is a truly remarkable production.
From "sex at the opera" to "Marilyn" -happy birthday dear president- Netrebko.
But, most important, the singing is all you could wish for.
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on 1 August 2010
There can be no better case made than this for restoring Massenet's greatest opera into the popular repertoire in the UK, where it is far too infrequently performed.

It has the most brilliant sequence of both sparkling and sad arias combined with tremendously tuneful choruses and, in addition, has as racy a pace of plot as you ever get in opera.

This production just about has it all - difficult to imagine a better casting than Anna Netrebko in the title role - a glorious voice, great acting talent and as one sees very clearly in Act 2, a body made for this role - the headline in the introductory article in the helpful insert is "Manon - Screen Goddess" and that is exactly what she is on this recording.

Rolando Villazon, now well known from his hosting of a popular UK operatic TV talent show, sings like a man possessed (as indeed in the story he is) but once his unfortunate resemblance to 'Mr Bean' as a schoolboy is noticed, it makes it rather hard to keep a straight face during the rest of the production
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on 14 May 2015
Villazon and Netrebko are in magnificent voice. Their acting and dramatic interpretation too is outstanding. The recording is excellent. The updating to the 1950's works well. So why not a top score review? Well, Massenet's operas sound so french and this is just not "french sounding enough" for my liking. For those who remember Sills and Gedda with Rudel as conductor their Manon was nigh on perfect AND so french sounding. So a non french cast can weave the magic of Massenet. Maybe the explanation is simple - Barenboim had a bad night. As remarked elsewhere he appears so ill tempered. Never a sign that he is engaged with the performers or the performance. His only change in expression is an occasional grimace. Just reflect a moment on how Pappano and Rattle and Abbado become immersed, absorbed with a score and become the catalyst for so many wonderful performances these days. Then compare Barenboim here. So perhaps no need to look any further. Still worth buying though for the intensity and beauty of the singing.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 September 2014
What a great watch this is; it’s totally intoxicating. It’s a cascade of colour, via the wonderful costumes & settings. I am not normally an opera lover but I so enjoyed this. For me it was 2 hours & 40 minutes of sheer pleasure.
I don’t confess to be an expert on’ song’ but I found the ‘warbling’ here just wonderful to listen to, especially that of the soprano, Anna Netrebko, who of course plays Manon. Rolando Villazon (Chevalier) was also totally compelling as her love sick partner.
Like a lot of Opera & Musicals, the plot is very basic and so is easy to follow, especially with the help of sub titles that cement this still further.
The one thing that truly hit me between the eyes was the sheer passion that is generated throughout the piece, not only from the singing but also from the very fine acting, especially of the heart-rending scenes which really are quite gripping. The finale is just mind numbingly beautiful, being almost iconic.
The pack contains two DVD’s and a booklet to help you make your way through this superb watch and I have to say that the picture quality and sound quality is every bit as good as the opera itself!
How anyone can be overly critical after watching this is beyond my comprehension! I am not that into opera but thought that this was an outstandingly enjoyable way to spend an evening.
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on 12 December 2012
If you are a purist then this is not for you, but this update has the cast wearing costumes half remembered from my childhood.
If you like some imaginative staging then this will go a long way towards redressing the balance.
I recently watched on sky arts a Met version with Netrebko in a more traditional setting, Luisi conducting, Netrebko is good but the orchestra lacks passion, that certainly cannot be said of Barenboim, he extracts magic from the Staatsoper.
The other singers are very good, I particularly like the trio of beautiful ladies, who blend beautifully in their numerous spots.
Lescaut played by Daza has a fine baritone voice and plays a good part.
I have nearly overlooked Villazon, as I always expect a superb performance, he is fully up to standard.
Of other versions that I own my favourite is the quirky McVicar offering with a delightfully girlish Dessay in title roll. For more traditional fans the Gruberova with Adam Fischer takes some beating.
To return to the current production in act 3 "Ma Rosalinde" by Lescaut is a little gem of staging. I also like the street scene and " Here come the fashionable ladies". This is closely followed by Manons celebration of beauty and youth, well supported by orchestra and chorus.
In scene 2 of this act at St Sulpice "ah sweet Memory" is memorable by Villazon, the whole scene is sympathetically done, and culminates with a passionate reconciliation, shared by Netrebko, Villazon and orchestra.
I will not delve further into acts four and five other than to say that that, the standard is maintained throughout.
I do however drop one star from my rating because of the update.
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on 12 October 2013
I loved the whole thing, style and music but again the staging was a bit too pantomime and that is the only thing that let it down for me.Villason and Netrebko were divine and totally believing in their portrayals. If the stting had been as good as the acting it would have been superb. I even liked the different screen divas that Manon portrayed in each act which was only spoilt by the stupid use of film crew with lime lights. It took away the reality of the drama and poignianancy.
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on 23 January 2014
How to get Anna Netrebko to roll around in her underwear?
This is always a bit of a poser for theatre producers, but always a money spinner for the investors.
I know she's a lovely looking lady and her assets are both sound and vision, but when the vision becomes more of a selling point than her sound for theatres, this is what you end up with.
It's a poor production of Massenet's opera that has the star turn portrayed as a flimsily clothed hooker most of the time whilst Villazon is risible as a sort of moustachio'ed dwarf gangster.
Don't bother wasting your time with this lame production.
Singing is good, orchestra is mediocre as usual under the baton of Barenboim - a man who thinks everything should be played like it was written by Beethoven.
Buy the CD instead if you must but don't expect anything other than OK.
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