Netrebko Rules in Massenet Opera 'Manon' George Jahn, Associated Press,
4 March 2007
Massenet's "Manon," as performed here Saturday, should have been called "Anna." Netrebko, that is. Her voice? Childlike when called for, as a 16-year-old on her way to a convent until love catches up with her. Tender, as she says farewell to her true love to throw herself into the fast lane. Passionate, as she realizes the folly of her ways and begs for forgiveness. And effortless, in pitch, phrasing and expression. But Netrebko on stage would be an experience even if she had laryngitis. Her mimicry, her charisma and her sense of what the role of Manon called for made her a delight to watch, first as a prim but coquettish teenager experiencing her first taste of the big world outside, then as the young lover, the woman of the world - and finally a woman broken and dying but happy in the arms of the man she shunned but managed to regain. This time, that man was not Rolando Villazon but tenor Roberto Alagna as Des Grieux, her lover. But if Netrebko was missing her almost perennial partner, she didn't show it. She and Alagna were an example in animal magnetism, whether cuddling in bed in their simple Paris walk-up, clutching in church in the scene where she reclaims him from his life as a priest, or engaging in a final embrace as the stage turns dark, and the curtain prepares to fall. Alagna, too, delivered a bracing vocal and stage performance, as did the other principals, helping to lift what is sometimes considered a relatively lightweight opera into the realm of serious enjoyment. No less a master than Tchaikovsky dissed "Manon," commenting after an 1884 Paris performance: "Very charming, well finished, but without one touching or impressive moment," and in the hands of artists less skilled than those at Saturday's Vienna State Opera premiere, such an assessment could hold true. Arguments against this work have ranged from a thin plot to uninspired music outside of the three of four arias that always get requisite applause. At more than three hours, including a break, such weaknesses could translate into yawns in weaker productions. Working against that were conductor Bertrand de Billy and the Vienna State Opera orchestra. The music from the pit was bright, tender or muscular, admirably complementing and blending with the voices and action on stage. And Netrebko and Alagna had admirable backup from Ain Anger, as De Grieux's father; Adrian Eroed as Lescaut, Manon's cousin; Michael Roider as the lecherous Guillot; and In-Sung Sim as the world-wise Bretigny, who lures her to the dissolute life that ultimately proves to be her ruin. Also enjoyable were Simina Ivan, Sophie Marilley and Juliette Mars as the three ladies of light virtue. Their roles were made even more believable by the decision of director Andrei Serban and stage manager Peter Pabst to move the action from the 19th century into the Paris of the Roaring '20s. That too worked well, resulting in scenes staged with light projections and cardboard cutout figures - and onstage visuals that complemented the principals, without upstaging them.