Primadonna assoluta and shining star of the international opera world, Anna
Netrebko has been given a sumptuous vehicle to showcase her "incomparable,
velvety, mesmerizingly chocolate-dark timbre" (Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung): as the tragic heroine of Jules Massenet's "Manon." Premiered in
1884, the work is, next to "Werther," the most popular opera by this
prolific composer, who reigned over France's musical theater in the last
quarter of the 19th century.
Based on an 18th-century novel, "Manon" tells the story of a young woman
who falls in love with an impoverished young nobleman, Des Grieux, while on
her way to enter a convent. She chooses earthly over divine love and, from
one misfortune to another, is ultimately arrested as a prostitute and
condemned to deportation to the New World. But before, she dies in the arms
of her lover. Massenet's scintillating score provides a richly nuanced
backdrop to the tragedy and hovers between arias and spoken dialogues,
between melodrama and récitatif accompagné - always highly emotional,
yet never saccharine.
Anna Netrebko pulls out all the stops as the impulsive, hybrid femme fatale
and child woman, who yields to her immoderate cravings for sensual
pleasure. As her shining knight, Roberto Alagna is a Des Grieux who wins
all hearts with his vibrant timbre and stage presence. Director Andrei
Serban has transposed the action to the 1930s, a time of growing social and
political unease that is sharply evoked by the Peter Pabst's sets. Film
projections, mirror effects, billboards and naturalistic props heighten
the flickering nervousness of the score.
Conductor Bertrand de Billy extracts every gram of tragedy, every flash of
emotion, every change of mood and atmosphere in Massenet's music. With
the transparent and crisply defined playing of his orchestra, he clearly
rejects the often cushiony, impressionistic orchestral style often favored
for Massenet's music. Thanks to this recording, the production - "one of
the Vienna State Opera's most glamorous of the current season" - will
continue to thrill music lovers long after it has left Vienna's stage.