Anna Netrebko's Manon Lescaut Provides Huge Waves of Sound ... And Little More

Anna Netrebko, photo @ Ken Howard
Anna Netrebko's much-anticipated Met debut of Manon Lescaut was a dream if you're the type of opera lover who craves huge, unstinting waves of sound to flood the auditorium all evening. During "Sola, perduta abbandonata" she walked downstage, and simply released the flood-gates of her voice to the 4,000 person auditorium. It was glorious surround-sound. It was the high point of her portrayal. You just bathed in the aural experience. Netrebko is one of the few singers who can do this.  Her voice has even acquired a degree of flexibility it didn't have when she was younger -- she turned out a beautiful trill in "L'ora, o Tirsi." Netrebko has maybe THE finest vocal endowment on the opera scene, period. There's not much her voice can't do. The lushness of her voice, her effectiveness in projecting her instrument, along with her security at the very upper and lower ranges of her voice, are all amazing.


Considerably less amazing however was her interpretation and connection to the text. Netrebko's vocal instrument is definitely a Stradivarius but her portrayal of Manon was an awkward mix of coquette, femme fatale, and tragedienne that only scratched the surface of the character. In the first act she didn't even pretend to be young -- she was a knowing sexpot from the moment she stepped onstage. Her character didn't grow -- her situation became more desperate but I didn't feel her pain. Maybe the falsest note was when she makes her abortive escape effort with Des Grieux in Act Two -- Netrebko ran around the room with her fur coat clumsily stuffing and re-stuffing jewels into her pockets and purposefully dropping those jewels again for another re-stuffing. The audience laughed. If this were opera buffa it'd be cute.

There were little moments of carelessness that ruined the illusion -- for instance, she started singing "Tu, tu, amore, tu!" before she turned around to "see" that Des Griuex had snuck into her chambers. She sometimes snatched breaths in odd places, which took away from the bite and pungency of verismo phrasing. Also her emphasis on uninterrupted waves of beautiful sound meant she often dipthonged vowels to a ridiculous extent. "In quelle trine morbide" had gorgeous crescendos and diminuendos but also sudden snatched breaths that destroyed the legato of the music. I realize that there's not many active Manon Lescauts around right now, and Netrebko is certainly preferable to Kristine Opolais. But Netrebko's incredible vocal gifts make me wish that she could give up the rhythmic slackness, potato mouth diction and lackadaisical characterization. Imagine the Manon she'd be then!

Alvarez and Maltman, photo @ Ken Howard

Marcelo Alvarez (Des Grieux) gives the same sort of performance I've seen him give many times over many years -- serviceable, professional, unmemorable. His voice still has some sweetness, and despite a tendency to croon he also has fairly good control of his upper register. He's just so damned basic in his presentation and delivery. There's never an "a-ha" moment with him where you hear the music differently or see the character in a new light. "Tra voi belle" was jaunty, "Donna non vidi mai" was passionate, and from the second act onwards furrowed brows meant that the character was in constant sturm and drang. The chemistry between him and Netrebko was non-existent -- oddly, that sort of worked. This Manon Lescaut was so self-absorbed that to her, Des Grieux was just another jewel in her box. 

The supporting cast was excellent. Christopher Maltman (Lescaut) and Brindley Sherratt (Geronte) did fine work as the sleazeballs. Maltman really brought charm and joie de vivre to his role so one could fall for his hustler schemes. This revival however could have used the classy, controlled conducting of Fabio Luisi. This time it was Marco Armiliato at the pit and the difference was noticeable. The Intermezzo was marred by some poor timing with the strings, and Armiliatio simply can't push the music forward. He indulges his divas in their worst traits, and is really just a routinier. When he conducts the Met Orchestra also sounds routine.

Expiring in the comforts of Geronte's old home, photo @ Ken Howard

The production by Richard Eyre has been modified -- Netrebko as can be expected does her own thing and got a new set of costumes. The business with the whores in Act Three has been toned down considerably. Otherwise the production remains the same in that it's handsome to look at, but makes almost no sense. Why does the first act train station look like a recreation of the Roman Coliseum? Why would Manon be dancing a flamenco at the same time she's putting on a baroque parlor show? Why would wartime France be deporting women of leisure? And why would Manon and Des Grieux board an ocean liner only to go right back to Paris to die? 

But I don't think anyone in the audience last night was there for Eyre's production. Excitement level was high for Netrebko's Manon Lescaut. I wish I'd been able to be as spellbound and adoring as the rest of the audience was. Netrebko has said that she wants to move more into verismo repertoire. She certainly has the voice for it. But right now the phrasing and attention to the text is not there.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Ivy. I go later in the month. Your account sounds more like what I expect to hear and see than some other reports of flawless, brilliant, profound perfection.

    BTW, Maltman is new to the cast- last year we had the utterly forgettable Massimo Cavalletti.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Kruno I corrected that. Look forward to your impressions.

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  2. I appreciate the sentiment here in a lot of the finer points. Also, the realization that AN is the finest Soprano today and vocally as well endowed as the finest ever were. I concur.
    However, I have to say that it's not just sound and vocal gift we are hearing, but, also, cold, hard technical mastery! This takes immense concentration and practiced skill. One hears every note evenly, beautifully produced from top to bottom at every dynamic and tempo. One gets no sense of fatigue--and in THAT HOUSE, which sounds perfect to the audience, but gives very little aural feedback to the singer, that is saying a mouthful! Etc, etc.
    artistry takes a lifetime to perfect and it's not like there are dozens of examples of perfection for her to follow. AN is the sine qua non and the more she can hone that voice , the better,, of course.
    But, I'm Very Happy with what I'm hearing right now!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I appreciate the sentiment here in a lot of the finer points. Also, the realization that AN is the finest Soprano today and vocally as well endowed as the finest ever were. I concur.
    However, I have to say that it's not just sound and vocal gift we are hearing, but, also, cold, hard technical mastery! This takes immense concentration and practiced skill. One hears every note evenly, beautifully produced from top to bottom at every dynamic and tempo. One gets no sense of fatigue--and in THAT HOUSE, which sounds perfect to the audience, but gives very little aural feedback to the singer, that is saying a mouthful! Etc, etc.
    artistry takes a lifetime to perfect and it's not like there are dozens of examples of perfection for her to follow. AN is the sine qua non and the more she can hone that voice , the better,, of course.
    But, I'm Very Happy with what I'm hearing right now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree. I think if AN were to focus on roles that put a premium on vocal beauty and purity, her current approach would be preferable. But as it is she's moving into verismo territory where acting has always been been valued. Her rather generalized bubbly persona no longer really suit either her body or the roles she's chosen to undertake.

      Delete

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