Top positive review
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The rise and fall of a sizzling starlet
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.