Marco Armiliato conducts Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

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COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: Manon Lescaut
PERFORMER: Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Armando Piña, Carlos Chausson, Benjamin Bernheim, Erik Anstine, Patrick Vogel, Szilvia Vörös, Simon Shibambu, Daliborka Miteva; Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor; Munich Radio Orchestra/Marco Armiliato
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 6828

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It’s a problem common to several verismo soprano roles: how to sound young enough to be plausibly innocent yet produce a tone sufficiently rich to ride the most opulent and savagely expressive orchestration. Time was when Anna Netrebko’s Manon meant Massenet’s giddy, girlish, gavotting Manon, a woman so insecure and materialistic that she will seduce and ruin a priest. Now, with a darker, more voluptuous and more volatile edge to her voice, it means Puccini’s Manon Lescaut: the heroine – or anti-heroine – of Puccini’s version of the good-time-girl-gone-bad of 18th-century French literature.

In this live recording from the 2016 Salzburg Festival, Netrebko’s Manon soars over the rest of the cast, framed attentively, eloquently and imaginatively by Marco Armiliato and the Munich Radio Orchestra. It’s a riveting, sometimes wayward performance that fails to sound remotely girlish in Act I but captures perfectly the greed, impetuousness, self-destructiveness and lust for life in Acts II and III, with a full-throated, full-hearted account of ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’.

When Netrebko sings ‘Non voglio morire!’, you believe it. And she can still spin a pianissimo top note. The producer and engineer have been less careful of Yusif Eyvazov’s Des Grieux, Armando Piña’s Lescaut and Carlos Chausson’s excellent Geronte. Eyvazov tenses up unattractively in the arias and duets, singing more freely in the passages that never feature in highlights compilations. There’s lovely singing from the Madrigalisti (Daliborka Miteva, Martina Reder, Cornelia Sonnleithner, Arina Holecek) and the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, but this is very much a one-woman show.

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Anna Picard