Search - Jules Massenet - Manon / Dessay, Villazon, Ramey, Lanza, Henry, Perez, McVicar (Gran Teatre del Liceu 2007) on DVD

Jules Massenet - Manon / Dessay, Villazon, Ramey, Lanza, Henry, Perez, McVicar (Gran Teatre del Liceu 2007)
Jules Massenet - Manon / Dessay Villazon Ramey Lanza Henry Perez McVicar
Gran Teatre del Liceu 2007
Actors: Natalie Dessay, Rolando Villazon, Samuel Ramey, Manuel Lanza, Victor Pabro Pérez
Directors: David McVicar, François Roussillon
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2008     2hr 55min

This imaginative Barcelona production of Massenet's tearjerker about a woman gone wrong in the dissolute world of 18th-century Paris features a brilliant performance of the title role by Natalie Dessay and an abundance of ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Natalie Dessay, Rolando Villazon, Samuel Ramey, Manuel Lanza, Victor Pabro Pérez
Directors: David McVicar, François Roussillon
Genres: Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: DTS, Musicals & Performing Arts
Studio: Virgin Classics (EMI)
Format: DVD - Color,Anamorphic
DVD Release Date: 01/15/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 2hr 55min
Screens: Color,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Catalan
Subtitles: French, English, German, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Sterling Manon
L. Gallagher | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"To date the reference recording -- by default, given the virtual absence of other DVD format productions -- has been the 2001 performance at the Bastille Opera with Renee Fleming and Marcelo Alvarez. David McVicar's production, from Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu, changes the landscape considerably, in several regards. It's a shame that the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production, directed by Vincent Patterson, was not recorded. Ideally, a collection of opera on DVD would have both the Barcelona and the Los Angeles performances, because the real choice, I think, lies between these two conceptions. The Bastille production is sumptuous in many ways, with superlative musical direction (Lopez-Cobos), visually alluring period sets and costumes cast in a spectrum of sherbet colors that defy description, and the estimable presence of Fleming and Alvarez. I think those who love this performance may find it hard to enter the world McVicar and his star soprano, Natalie Dessay, create at the Liceu. McVicar's production is an imaginative and powerful invocation of Hogarth's (not to mention Goya's) seedy eighteenth-century street scenes and claustrophobic interiors. McVicar presents a world still tinted with signs of former luxury but pervasively marked by neglect and decay. The color palette throughout the staging, for example, is dominated by shades of taupe, moss green, and grey, so much so that it is hard to detect the arrival of Manon in the famous Cours-la-Reine scene, and it is also positively shocking to see Manon appear in brilliant crimson in the gambling scene. In some ways, that's the trade-off: we don't get the easy visual pleasure of the cinematic spectacle, but we do get a pretty powerful dose of the scandal. This is to say that the purely visual dimension of McVicar's production is polemical: he is not aiming to satisfy our desire to see yet another version of the rags to riches story in charming 18th-century porcelain, and I would guess the point here is not simply that we know how the story ends but that MiVicar wants to remind us that the world in which Manon tries to survive is sumptuous only in a superficial and extremely precarious way, never far from its callous and mercenary underbelly.

So, fair warning: those seeking a visually seductive performance of Manon should buy (or stick with) the Bastille production. On the other hand, McVicar's staging is harrowing and moving beyond belief -- it may not correspond to the sentimentality of Massenet's score but it surely conveys more of the spirit of Prevost's 18th-century novel. Indeed, I think the astringent staging presented here goes miles toward helping us hear Massenet's music differently, and better. Surely McVicar has ideal partners in Dessay and Villazon. There is simply no comparison between Dessay and Fleming, or between Villazon and Alvarez. All four, of course, are superlative singers, but Dessay's Manon is specific, vulnerable, complicated, and ultimately devastating in ways that Fleming's Manon only gestures at, in beautifully composed but oddly inert ways. To be sure, Dessay's laser-like timbre does not convey Fleming's vocal opulence but neither does Fleming's Manon traverse the dramatic arc that Dessay presents in crushing detail. (Compare the Saint-Sulpice scenes in each version and you'll see and hear what I mean.) Similarly, Alvarez's Des Grieux is beautifully sung but generalized; Villazon's is also beautifully sung but it is also believably raw and exposed. The Liceu set does have a weak element, but it is not a major liability: unfortunately, Samuel Ramey was cast rather too late in his career to make an impact in the paternal role of the Comte Des Grieux. That said, if the choice is now between the Liceu and Bastille productions, I'd go for the Liceu. [The Los Angeles production boasted an even more passionately sung Des Grieux and the stunning Manon of Anna Netrebko, placed in a deliberately over-the-top staging filtered through the lens of '40s and '50s Hollywood film melodrama. You either loved it or hated it -- but, unlike the Bastille production, the LA conception presents a real alternative to what Liceu so movingly creates.]"
Smoking Hot Manon!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 01/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"First of all the production. Some may find this stripped down, unit set goes against the roccoco splendour and excess usually associated with productions of Massenet's most famous opera too bare bones, but McVicar is on to something. In this sort of semi circle, bull ring type atmosphere everything - and I mean everything - must and does come from the singers.

Some may also prefer the opulent tone of Fleming in the role, or the dark liquidy sexiness of Netrebko, but for my money, Dessay is my ideal as Manon. Her performance here is nothing short of astonishing - maybe THE Manon of our day who is completely believable in all stages of Manon's development. Her "Adieu, petite table" was so organic, so revealing, showing how conflicted this young woman was between true love and the lure of a luxurious lifestyle. Whereas I don't often feel pity for Manon until the end, Dessay had me right here. And she wouldn't let go.

Where many sopranos treat the Gavotte as the showpiece of the night, Dessay does something unique that just blew me away, singing the second strophe of the aria almost entirely inward looking - introducing a genuinely introspective quality to it. It's as though the crowd has melted away and she's singing this entirely for herself, fully understanding the words, then with a sudden recognition of who and where she is, puts back on her game face, which may fool the crowd at the Cour de Reine, but not the viewing audience. It is an absolute tour de force of vocal acting and the audience appropriately goes mad with the longest ovation of the night. But something else happened, too, during this scene that grabbed me as few Manons have: the melodramma between Manon and Count des Grieux, her questions, his answers, came alive in a way that made the scene crackle. Ramey, given concerns about his "wobble" was authoritative, if not vocally splendid, and his speaking voice retains a grave, elegant quality that, (at least for me) made the role a success.

Villazon is every bit Dessay's equal on just about every level. A few oddly shaped phrases of his French, and a harsh note or two crept in at the beginning, but his Des Grieux is so entirely believable, so loveably innocent that one cannot help but feel for him every step of the way. I felt "THIS" is who Des Grieux sounds. His "Ah Fuyez" was propulsive, musical and gut wrenching. (At times, not always, his darkened, timbre reminds me of a certain Spanish tenor in his youth.)

When Manon arrives at St. Sulplice, it is with a feverish intensity. Clearly burning with madness and desire, she casts off her duster looking almost as though she will explode. When she desparately cries out her prayer, you know this woman is completely overwhelmed by her feelings - she is unraveling - though probably fixed to a plan, has no idea as to how she's going to proceed - that prayer is desperation itself. Instead of acting out the usual seduction scene Dessay appears to her former lover as though a wounded bird, and Des Grieux fights - a little violently - to restrain himself from caving in, but he cannot keep from touching her and his fate is doomed right here. Explosive is not too strong a word for the quality these two infuse this scene with and here they are lighting up one of Massenet's greatest, grandest moments. (At the conclusion of this scene I had to hit "pause" and have a cigarette.)

The final scene had me in nonstop tears, Dessay presenting a ruined, truly pathetic rag of a girl, and her quiet death (no gasp on "Lescaut") and Villazon's reaction made me shudder as he kisses her, raises her almost refusing to believe what just happened. Amazing.

Victor Pablo Perez leads the Liceu forces in a very French sounding performance, catching Massenet's nuances, breathing with his singers so naturally it was refreshing.

This Manon is truly a marvelous example of total music theatre - everything coming together about as perfectly as I could have wanted. Anyone who loves Massenet, really owes it to themself to have this disc in their library. As Pepe noted, for the price - it's one of the best operatic bargains you'll find.

I'm still all verklempt over this one, gang!

A Powerful, Unsentimental "Manon"
Janet Bedell | Baltimore, Maryland USA | 01/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Filmed at Barcelona's Liceu Theater last summer, this is a superb and unsentimental production of Massenet's "Manon" that builds to a shattering conclusion. Eschewing a recent trend for updating, David McVicar's production sets the story in the exact period of the Abbé Prevost's famous novel: the early 18th century. But that does not mean that this is a quaint and prettified staging -- far from it!

Taking his cue from Hogarth's gritty period paintings, McVicar gives us a grim, venal world in which only the toughest survive. And that makes the love story of Manon and Des Grieux all the more poignant since we know that these two innocents don't stand a chance in such a setting. McVicar's masterstroke is to surround them constantly -- except in the St. Sulpice scene and during their final duet -- with a crowd of cynical onlookers, portrayed by the ballet and some chorus members; even the intimate Act 2 scene in their apartment in Paris has curious servants hovering about.

In Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazón, McVicar has two performers who are as much actors as singers. A diminutive little gamine, Dessay has to overcome the fact that she is no beauty, while Manon is supposed to be so gorgeous that she attracts every man who sees her. But overcome it she does, and while she can't match Anna Netrebko's glamour in this part, she captures the complexity and extreme feminity of Manon's character in much greater detail than does Netrebko (whom I saw in the Los Angeles production, which, in its Berlin incarnation, is due out on Deutsche Grammophon later this year). Her voice may lack Netrebko's size and voluptuousness, but she excells in the role's colorature passages and acuti. And her more fragile sound makes her death scene incredibly poignant.

At the time of this production, Rolando Villazón was in the midst of a vocal crisis that was about to send him into the lengthy absence from the stage, from which he has only returned this month. Yet, despite a minor sense of stress in some of his loud climaxes, this is not really evident at all. His singing of "La Rêve' in Act 2 is gloriously subtle and tender: he owns this aria. And his acting is utterly persuasive. It's tremendously difficult to make "good" characters interesting, but Villazón knows how: his Des Grieux is by turns sweetly romantic, fiercely protective, and, at the end, utterly broken. The closing death scene between Dessay and Villazón is utterly heartbreaking, but again without any sentimentality.

Other cast members are strong, especially Manuel Lanza's robustly sung Lescaut. A minor problem is Samuel Ramey's Count Des Grieux. Now well into his sixties, he sings with a terrible wobble and really should retire so that we can remember him as the glorious singer he was. The little-known Victor Pablo Pérez conducts the Liceu Orchestra with admirable Gallic spirit and refinement. The photography is excellent throughout.

I give this outstanding DVD my highest recommendation. If you love French opera, Dessay, Villazón, or simply an enthralling theatrical as well as musical experience, buy it!"
A Very Different "Manon"
David Cady | Jersey City, NJ USA | 01/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Those looking for a traditional "Manon" had best stick to the Sills or Gruberova versions. Anyone open for innovation and theatricality will have a marvelous time with this Liceu prodcution. Robert Carsen and Willy Decker have made me wary of overtly reimagined stagings, but this is a brilliant take on a familiar old friend, combining music, dance and story theater into the kind of inspired spectacle that Peter Hall has made famous over the years. Dessay and Villazon are as good as one could hope (as is Manuel Lanza as Lescaut), but remarkably, they're only part of the picture here. Usually I find a lot of stage business distracting to my enjoyment of the singing (which is, arguably, the raison d'etre for opera in the first place), but in this case the goings on are such an integral part of the world that director David McVicar has created, that I feel it actually enhances what the singers are doing. (And thankfully, McVicar knows when to cool it, calm things down and let the singers shine.) Bottom line, this is a vibrant and imaginative take on a repertory classic that is both respectful and innovative, and a very welcome addition to the DVD choices out there."