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The Met Opera Debuts Laurent Pelly's Production of Massenet's "Manon"
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The Met Opera Debuts Laurent Pelly's Production of Massenet's "Manon"

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At the
Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera House

Music: Jules Massenet
Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille
Based on the novel:
L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut
by Abbé Prevost
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Production: Laurent Pelly
Sets: Chantal Thomas
Costumes: Laurent Pelly
Lighting: Joël Adam
Choreographer: Lionel Hoche
Assoc. Director: Christian Räth
General Manager: Peter Gelb
Music Director: James Levine

Manon Lescaut: Anna Netrebko
Chevalier des Grieux: Piotr Beczala
Lescaut, Manon’s cousin: Paolo Szot
Count des Grieux: David Pittsinger
Guillot de Morfontaine: Christophe Montagne
De Brétigny: Bradley Garvin
Pousette: Anne-Carolyn Byrd
Javotte: Jennifer Black
Rosette: Ginger Costa-Jackson
An Innkeeper: Philip Cokorinos
Guards: Alexander Lewis, David Crawford
A Maid: Kathryn Day

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 26, 2012

Manon (1884)

(Read the plot of the opera, Manon here.)

In a surreal, minimalist setting, quasi-Dali, quasi-Magritte, Laurent Pelly and Chantal Thomas have designed a new production of Massenet’s Manon. Fabio Luisi conducted the Met Orchestra with distinguished gravitas, no flourish or fanfare here. I vividly remember Beverly Sills starring as Manon many years ago and looked forward to seeing and listening to this Massenet opera once again. There were no disappointments. The Russian soprano, Anna Netrebko, as Manon, was lustrous, vocally glorious, and a mixture of ingénue and intrigue. Manon Lescaut (based on the Prevost novel) is a rambunctious young woman, ordered by her family to a convent to mend her ways. Her cousin, Lescaut (Paolo Szot, baritone from Brazil), has her as his charge for the voyage, but he takes off now and then to play cards. Fate arrives in the form of Chevalier des Grieux (Piotr Beczala, tenor from Poland). Des Grieux has a love at first sight whiplash effect, as he passes through an Amiens courtyard, north of Paris. Costumes are set in late 19th century France, but scenery is set as a shadowy dream.

A driving desire to hear David Pittsinger’s transporting bass baritone again, as I had experienced his voice in Lincoln Center’s recent South Pacific, brought me to the Met tonight. Mr. Pittsinger, from Connecticut, however, had the minor role of des Grieux’ father, Count des Grieux, but splendid again he was. He absorbed the role in its purposeful intent to protect his son’s future from a seemingly wanton woman. In the ballet, Manon, Count des Grieux has a forceful presence, especially in direct encounters with Manon, more moving than in this opera. Lescaut was often joined by Guillot de Morfontaine (Christophe Mortagne, tenor from France) and De Bretigny (Bradley Garvin, bass baritone from Illinois), both jaunty, party-going noblemen, who vocally projected with panache, although the characters often seemed lost in the bleak set. In fact, the set seemed to absorb the audience to such an extent that the designers were booed at the curtain (this was opening night of the new production).

Massive staircases and walkways with tiny, distant homes atop them, plus St. Sulpice, chapel, where des Grieux wanders the pews in angst, after Manon abandons him, remained in my mind. Another memorable visual is the tiny lovers’ flat on Rue Vivienne that Manon and des Grieux inhabited in Act II, with its picnic table on the balcony. The gambling scene in Act IV, when des Grieux and Manon are arrested, with the Count paying off the police to release his son, while Manon is handcuffed as a thief, was equally surreal, with chorus in black and white, Manon in vivid red. Although I sat third row orchestra, side, there was an acute sense of distance, visually and psychically, from the leads. The characters seemed so small in the stacked stairs and expansive emptiness. A ballet ensemble appeared trapped at the edge of the stage, and I feared a twirling dancer would fall into the pit. I would like to revisit this opera to see if the scenery actually synthesized the thematic emotions of loneliness, despair, betrayal, greed, self-righteousness, remorse.

Ms. Netrebko sings with endlessly held notes and persuasive poise. Mr. Beczala is an impressive tenor, whose impassioned fervor cut through the massive stage. Mr. Szot and Mr. Pittsinger added depth and bravura at baritone and bass baritone tonalities. Mr. Mortagne and Mr. Garvin, tenor and bass baritone, sang with clarity and strength. Anne-Carolyn Byrd as Pousette, Jennifer Black as Javotte, and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Rosette all added resonance and force to their vocal performances, as well as energized theatrics. The Met Chorus was superb. Fabio Luisi, Conductor from Italy, is a master of the genre, as he kept the motion, as well as music, cohesive and charged. Lionel Hoche, Choreographer, managed to keep the ballerinas onstage in tight surroundings, even as they were lifted and carried off by the elegant men in suits, in airy aggression. Joël Adam, lighting, Ms. Thomas, sets, and Mr. Pelly, Director and costumes, created a challenge for the audience, which received accolades through the booing. Kudos to Massenet. Check for additional operas and tickets.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at