Richard and I saw this Puccini opera the Met on 2/24. It's a new production, and was supposed to be with two singers I was eager to see/hear: soprano Kristine Opolais, a Puccini specialist who's been tearing up the stages around the world, who I had never heard, and tenor Jonas Kaufmann, known on parterre.com as "Yummy Jonas", fantastic singer, a vital stage presence, and yes, a looker of note. The two of them had done this opera together in London and Munich and got raves, so it promised to be an exciting evening.
But then Kaufmann canceled the whole run due to illness. "Illness" - - this could mean many things:
Trip to Betty Ford
Too many Lohengrins
We may never know! But Roberto Alagna came to the rescue. He was already at the Met singing *Pagliacci*, so he pulled out of that show (Marco Berti replaced him) to do this one. He had never sung the role, but had learned it a few years before for a production that never happened. I'm surprised no one else snatched him up to do it in the mean time.
They were both wonderful, Alagna in particular. He has an ideal placement to his voice, what singers call "ping" - - he has some serious ping. Still plenty of nuance in his singing, but the sound just pours out. And he's a strong performer, at turns ardent, frantic, devastated, the whole spectrum.
Opolais is a real find for the Met. Lovely voice, maybe not as full as one might ideally wish for, but then she's only 36. Her voice is delicate rather than forceful, and it works for this role. I can only imagine how brilliant she is as Madama Butterfly, another role she's done at the Met. She beautifully handled the progression of Manon from dewy teenager (Act I) to hedonistic slag (Act II) to regretful convict (Act III) to martyr con grandezza (Act IV). She achieved this not just with her physical acting, but also acting with her voice, which is what it's all about, Alfie.
The production was by Sir Richard Eyre, and it was well done. It puts the show on the stage in a satisfying way, I think it might serve them for a nice long time. Imaginative but not wacko.
The only problem is the opera itself: I imagine it was on the naughty side when it was written in 1893, but that element has faded. What we're left with is a hell of a lot of gorgeous music, and a charismatic couple in the center. What's missing, for me, is a sense of caring for the character of Manon. Richard said, "Why should anyone feel sorry for her? She brought it on herself, she's an idiot." My husband, Mr. Compassion.
I compare her to Katerina in *Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk*, a role that Opolais does, with a similar character arc - - -Katerina is much more ruthless than Manon, but you feel for her because you sense that there's an extraordinary, intelligent woman lurking in there, undone by her circumstances. Manon seems simply petulant and ego-driven.