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Wednesday, 30 October 2019

A ravishing and heart-rending evening: Massenet's Manon from the Met, Live in HD

Massenet: Manon - Metropolitan Opea (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Massenet: Manon - Metropolitan Opea (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Massenet Manon; Lisette Oropesa, Michael Fabiano, Artur Ruciński, dir: Laurent Pelly, cond: Maurizio Benini; Metropolitan Opera Live in HD at Barbican
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 26 October 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Massenet's tragedy done on thrilling style at the Met

I don’t know about Manon, but after last week’s offering from the Met., it was my turn to be completely dazed by the difference a week can make. Saturday 26 October 2019 Metropolitan Opera Live in HD transmission (seen at Barbican Screen 1) of Massenet’s Manon was une autre paire de manches. Massenet’s straightforward and to the point retelling of this quintessentially French tale of a beautiful young woman who succumbs to the bright lights of the beau monde with tragic results was done in thrilling style in Laurent Pelly’s striking production set, in this iteration, during the Belle Époque. Lisette Oropesa was the childish innocent avec charme, with Michael Fabiano as the impetuous and tortured Chevalier des Grieux. A particularly oleaginous Carlo Bosi was Guillot de Morfontaine, while Artur Ruciński charmed (although I’m not sure he should have) as Manon’s roguish cousin Lescaut. Kwangchul Youn was Comte des Grieux. Maurizio Benini conducted.

From the moment you saw the grey austerity of Chantal Thomas’ designs the tone was set. You could be in no doubt about the thrust of Laurent Pelly’s view. Acts 1 to 4 were grim voyeuristic pits dominated by men. The stench of misogyny and hypocrisy was palpable, scenes were filled with hostility and poison. Everyone, including the women, seemed complicit in our heroine’s demise.

Massenet: Manon - Metropolitan Opea (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Massenet: Manon - Metropolitan Opea (Photo Metropolitan Opera)
Maurizio Benini’s reading got off to a cracking start with a vibrant full voiced opening taking full advantage of the orchestra’s lush string sound and some very fine woodwind playing. There were times though when I would have wished for a lighter hand at the helm. He could have ceded to the singers more often, and we did end up losing some of the opera’s simple melodic charm.

Poor Manon aside, charm was in short supply. There was not a cigarette paper to put between the gentlemen for either their vocals or power to enrage. It was the self-serving commoditisation of everything to serve their ends that stuck in the gorge. There was Kwangchul Youn, the stern upright Comte, who casually discarded Manon for that oxymoron family honour. Carlo Bosi as the sexually rapacious predator de Morfontaine was at his nauseating best; by the end I could barely look at him. Even the light relief supplied by Monsieur de Brétigny and particularly Lescaut who was doing his damnedest to persuade us that his dereliction of Manon was a peccadillo, a mere sign of youthful delinquency, left a peculiar taste in my mouth. Artur Ruciński is a real charmer and I almost fell for it. Blackguards all. I wasn’t all that sure about the Chevalier des Grieux either to be honest.

Michael Fabiano does a good tortured soul, he moved me to tears in the Royal Opera’s La Boheme [see Anthony's review], and I expected to hear far more nuance from him. His ringing silvery tone and legato was on display, but he sounded very up front and close in the broadcast which rendered him a bit shouty. Now, if you’re going to fall in love faster than you can boil an egg, we need to able to hear a bit more than ff and pp.

It was the towering performance of Lisette Oropesa as Manon [last seen in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots at the Paris Opera, see Robert's review] though that swept all before. It’s a rare thing to vocally and physically convince us of this story’s verisimilitude – and on a screen the size of a house there’s nowhere to hide. So totally did she embody her character that she had me from the get-go. Just one look into those sweet wilful impish eyes was enough. Nothing about her interpretation seemed to have been left to chance. Every thought and move seemed connected to the next. A performance of supreme self-control and insight. Every finessed and exquisite phrase pushed her inexorably towards her fate. A ravishing and heart-rending evening.

Manon The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD
Saturday 26 October 2019
Barbican Screen 1
Manon : Lisette Oropesa
Chevalier des Grieux : Michael Fabiano
Guillot de Morfontaine : Carlo Bosi
Lescaut : Artur Ruciński
De Brétigny : Brett Polegato
Comte des Grieux : Kwangchul Youn
Direction and Costume Design : Laurent Pelly
Set Design : Chantal Thomas
Conductor : Maurizio Benini
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus

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