WORKS: Manon Lescaut
PERFORMER: Nina Rautio, Gino Quilico, Peter Dvorsky, Luigi Roni, Marco Berti ; La Scala Chorus & Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: S2K 48474 DDD
Any new recording of Puccini’s first popular hit has formidable ghosts to contend with: the Manons of Callas and Tebaldi, the Des Grieux of Björling and di Stefano. More recent competition is stiff, too, with Sinopoli on DG conducting Freni and Domingo as the star-crossed lovers, and Te Kanawa and Carreras with Chailly on Decca.
With the best will in the world I cannot recommend this new version from La Scala. It is not without virtues – the orchestral balance is transparent and the playing effortlessly stylish. With a conductor less heartless than the super-efficient Maazel, this might have been the most musically satisfying Manon Lescaut since Serafin’s on EMI. The cast, too, is never less than competent. Nina Rautio’s Manon and Peter Dvorsky’s Des Grieux would work in the theatre, but they are simply not in the league of their legendary predecessors in terms of individuality. Rautio’s performance is undermined by indistinct, unidiomatic Italian and shrill high notes. Dvorsky spoils his very Italianate way with the music by bawling everything forte and more. It is hard to see why Sony thought this decent, routine performance was worth preserving commercially.