Saturday, April 7, 2012

Met Live in HD Review; The Diagonal Manon

Tenor Piotr Beczala as the Chevalier des Grieux was the most pleasant surprise in the Met Live in HD production of Manon. He sang with consistent elegance, power and fiery control. “En fermant les yeux” was gorgeous and sung from a stunning placement near a black wrought iron railing, cast on a diagonal, with Anna Netrebko lying down on the landing so that her head was slightly above his even though she was horizontal.

This work with relative heights was an effective feature of the sets by Laurent Pelly. Pelly developed diagonals throughout the production: There was a diagonal stairway in the bland set for Act I, many diagonals in the loft apartment in Act II, diagonal ramps galore in the Cours-la-Reine scene, which was echoed in the scene with the gamblers in Act IV, and in Act V all diagonals were finally resolved by tilting them upstage and allowing the sight-line to disappear. The only place unsaturated with diagonals was the seminary of St. Sulpice in Act III scene 2, and their absence helped anchor the importance of this scene by creating a visual stasis. The scene seemed settled and in opposition to the directed motion of the ramps and other diagonals of the production.

The production was updated to 19th century styles but that did not add anything significant to the telling of the story. Massenet sets archaic music frequently in the work and all that music felt askance. The production itself also interfered with the narrative in many places. For example, Pelly had the top-hatted gentlemen of the Cours-la-Reine abduct some of the ballet dancers in a scene that suddenly became unnecessarily Lulu.

This Live-in-HD production was also marked by an overabundance of camera shifting. At times it was dizzying. There was no reason to shift perspectives so frequently when the music, acting and singing was so good.

The backstage interviews were also bland. Bland. We need to ask Fabio Luisi better questions. He has been asked the same question every time he has been on camera...Yes, he likes to conduct different repertoire at the same time. Yup. Luisi could probably conduct Wagner with his left hand and Massenet with his right. Lets get him some questions that will allow him to tell us something about the music itself. Give us some insight.

Thankfully, Netrebko had her own volume turned all the way up. She gave a characteristically cool interview in front of her costumes. "This is the very first costume...it is supposed to look very innocent and simple. Those ones who call me Mary Poppins immediately go down to Hell!" We needed it. It felt great.

Netrebko also sounded strong and accurate. There were very few of the pitch problems that Tommasini wrote about on opening night. She also looked better than she did in Anna Bolena earlier this season. "I feel a purifying flame within me," she sang near the end of the opera. Purifying indeed.

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