Richard and I saw *Manon* at the Met on 10/2/19. It’s an opera from 1884 by Jules Massenet - - it had been on my list for a while of standard rep operas I felt I should see, and I was pleased it was playing at the Met this season, with two young singers I was eager to hear.
It’s your typical story about a pretty young woman from the provinces (on her way to the convent, no less) who gets seduced by the bright lights and glamour of the big city. Of course she has to pay for her pleasure, and she dies at the final curtain. Director Laurent Pelly emphasized the creepiness of the story, placing Manon directly in the Male Gaze. He did this with subtlety and good taste, without ruining the love story at the core of the opera.
Lisette Oropesa played Manon. She joined the Met as a member of their apprentice program, and I first heard her as the Forest Bird and a Rhinemaiden in the Ring Cycle, and as Miranda in their hit-or-miss Baroque pastiche *The Enchanted Island.* She was good in these roles, but like many singers before her, had to go to Europe to play leading roles and prove to the Met that she was good enough to play leading roles there. So this season she’s doing *Manon* and *Traviata.* Both are very demanding roles, they require a singer who can do everything - - and she was completely equal to the task!
I was especially impressed with a flight into the high voice in her opening aria. It was written to be impressive, and she sang it impressively, but it also came across as an integrated moment in the aria and in her view of the character. This sort of thing shows the difference between a singer and an artist.
One thing troubled me: she has two high Ds in her big third act aria, and both Ds had something strange going on. She hit them right on the nose, held them for their required duration, and didn’t appear to have any trouble or discomfort. But there was something a little extra in there, a little vocal interference. A stowaway, an unticketed passenger…
Michael Fabiano played her boyfriend, Des Grieux. I’d heard him in *Fledermaus* and was blown away by a *Lucia* I heard him do in 2018. He’s an exciting singer, sometimes stepping up to the line of being out of control, but never really getting there. This is a dangerous gambit, but it never really feels like danger with him. The problem is that this kind of visceral energy is not really what’s needed in this role, it asks for elegance and refinement. The high point of his performance was the Saint Sulpice scene, when Manon is driving him around the bend with desire, but his singing of the dreamy, lyrical second act aria was a little bland.
Richard and I were both impressed with baritone Artur Ruciński as Manon’s brother. He has a strong, handsome voice, I’d like to hear him in a bigger part. Conductor Maurizio Benini got just the right mix of sweetness and tartness out of the orchestra. Richard and I visited a friend of mine in the orchestra during the second intermission, and she said that she was a little bored by the repetition in this opera - - until they had a rehearsal for Philip Glass’s *Akhnaten,* and then she saw what repetition really was! Ha!
Here's the immortal Beverly Sills as Manon, in that fabulous Saint Sulpice scene, with Henry Price as Des Grieux. High drammer!