Massenet: Manon

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Manon
PERFORMER: Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Earle Patriarco, José van Dam; La Monnaie Chorus & SO/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 57005 2

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Manon technically belongs to the genre of opéra comique. However, it uses unaccompanied dialogue most sparingly, making much greater use of mélodrame – dialogue spoken over music – and these passages are delivered very effectively here, giving this studio recording the lively atmosphere of a stage performance. From her opening utterance in ‘Je suis encore tout étourdie’ as she chatters excitedly to her cousin Lescaut, through to her death scene in the arms of Des Grieux, Angela Gheorghiu’s rich-voiced Manon is utterly captivating, successfully conveying the girl’s sensuous and impulsively pleasure-seeking character in Act II with a beautifully phrased ‘Adieu, notre petite table’, delightful in the Act III Gavotte and sensuously persuasive in ‘N’est-ce plus ma main?’ in the Saint-Sulpice scene of Act III. As one would expect, Roberto Alagna is a convincing Des Grieux, phrasing his music elegantly and expressively throughout, his voice caressingly soft in ‘En fermant les yeux’ and ardent in the tormented desire of ‘Ah, fuyez, douce image’. If he now possesses only intermittently the ideal sweetness of timbre of his earliest performances on disc, he is still an exciting singer with a lyric tenor voice of exceptional quality. Earle Patriarco’s Lescaut is vividly characterised, José van Dam is a sympathetic Lescaut senior and Antonio Pappano conducts stylishly. But, though this EMI recording is highly satisfactory, I marginally prefer an earlier EMI version with Ileana Cotrubas as a most vulnerable Manon and Alfredo Kraus an ideally sweet-toned Des Grieux. Charles Osborne

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Reviewed October 2000