Massenet: Manon

LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Manon
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Rolando Villazón, Samuel Ramey, Manuel Lanza, Didier Henry; Gran Teatre del Liceu Chorus & SO/Victor Pablo Pérez; dir. David McVicar (Barcelona, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: Virgin 50999 5050689 7 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format)
Filmed at the Liceu in Barcelona in June 2007, David McVicar’s production of Massenet’s masterpiece is strong on period flavour, presenting a knowing and even louche vision of 18th-century French society in Tanya McCallin’s carefully lit designs. It’s strong, too, in the delineation and interaction of the two protagonists – something highlighted in an hour-long bonus film that shows Natalie Dessay’s Manon and Rolando Villazón’s Des Grieux being created in lively rehearsals with the director.Musically, too, values are high, with fine work from the orchestra and chorus and an idiomatic and perceptive account from conductor Victor Pablo Pérez, whose decision not to try to extract the last drop of emotion from the big moments is probably a fault on the right side. Massenet’s strong sympathy for his subject, his skill with pastiche and his sensitivity to the sensuality of the central relationship all shine through.Dessay’s Manon shines, too, not only in her prodigious technical skills, which make light of some seriously virtuosic writing, but also in a realisation of her conflicted character that shows Manon’s desire for love running up against her penchant for the finer things in life. There’s the odd sign of strain in Villazón’s more strenuous passages, but elsewhere his putty-in-her-hands characterisation is passionately and perceptively presented. Excellent support, too, from Manuel Lanza’s bluff to the point of aggressive Lescaut, Francisco Vas’s rouged roué of a Guillot and the trio of ‘actresses’ whose artful mannerisms Manon is all too quick to latch onto. All in all, a more comprehensive and convincing version of the piece than the main competition, the Deflo production starring Renée Fleming and Marcelo Álvarez on TDK.