CONDUCTOR: Fabio Luisi

CAST: Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Paulo Szot, Christophe Mortagne, Bradley Garvin, David Pittsinger

SET DESIGNS: Chantal Thomas



FILM DIRECTOR: Gary Halvorson

RUNNING TIME: 234 minutes

RATING: ****

Unchallenged patriarchal powers which are tirelessly exposed to harm and even injure “fallen women” in a wide range of opera plots, invariably lead to a disgraceful situation: the demise of the “sinner”.

Jules Massenet’s Manon can’t really escape its obnoxious plot, in which the grossly offensive and unequal treatment received by a powerless courtesan and her aristocratic lover is exposed. More or less the same happens in Verdi’s La Traviata, opening this Friday in cinemas.

There Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo, Violetta’s lover, pleads directly to her. It is based upon the blight which threatened his career by his liason with her, and upon another misfortune that will affect the family.

With tongue solidly in cheek you could ask: can anything more delightful happen to a diva than the opportunity to portray a beautiful girl so besotted with herself and the wrong man that she’ll no doubt be confronted by the unavoidable, namely abandon- ment and a repugnant death?

These were the prescribed mores in the stories by Abbé Prevost and many others.

Manon is originally set in 1821, but for this Met production the director Laurent Pelley chose a setting of some 60 years later.

Manon is a challenging role for any soprano.

It needs a radiant heroine. Anna Netrebko has a meltingly beautiful and finely poised voice, even if it does sound more Russian than French in its lower regions. Characterisation is unfailingly endearing.

In her early aria Je Suis Encore Tout étourdie (A Simple Maiden Fresh From Home) the conviction is there that she is emotionally totally involved, phrases magically, but also that the fluttering ones at the end of each section are breathtakingly delicate.

Her high Ds, admittedly, are not always hit squarely, and there was some coarseness in the most dramatic outbursts in Act IV. Netrebko is an example of a voice which seems to have been dipped in the inter-national melting pot. It has both advantages and disadvantages.

The greatest singing talent on this stage (by a margin), however, is the Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, in the role of Manon’s lover, Chevalier Des Grieux.

Character and voice become one in a dynamic performance that is sincere, dreamy, youthful, and most important of all, well-varied in colouring.

The spoiler of this couple’s happiness is Manon’s cousin, Lescaut, sung by Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot. He and De Brétigny (baritone Bradley Garvin) abduct Des Grieux from the couple’s flat at the end of Act II. From here on Manon finds herself on a slippery slope of disillusion.

The role of the Comte des Grieux – David Pittsinger as a clear and authoritative father figure – in this process is another thorn in the flesh for Des Grieux and Manon.

Pelly keeps a tight grip on the dramatic action in each scene, but also manages great subtlety in the characters’ introvert reflections. Especially the final act is brilliantly conceived.

The Met Orchestra and chorus are on top form under the leadership of conductor Fabio Luisi.

• Screening until Thursday at all Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.