I have a soft spot for Manon Lescaut. As far as Puccini's operas go I do prefer Tosca and La Boheme, and I do find Massenet's opera(Manon) more plausible in the storytelling(particularly in the final act). But that doesn't stop Manon Lescaut from being a fine opera, with some of Puccini's most beautiful music such as with the Intermezzo and the final scene. This is an excellent production. Is it the best Manon Lescaut I've seen? No, I do prefer the Scotto/Domingo and TeKanawa/Domingo productions, but I'd also seen the Met production with Mattila and Giordani and while liking that I do consider this 1998 one from La Scala superior.
Visually, the production looks superb. Of the sumptuous sets, Manon's boudoir in Act 2 really stands out, I've not seen a boudoir that beautiful in a while. The costumes are likewise very impressive, with Gallo very handsomely attired indeed. The staging is wonderful, the final scene is especially moving. The picture quality is clear, and even with a couple of murky moments the lighting adds to the atmosphere. The sound is not fantastic but not terrible either, apart from Guleghina's pianissimo singing occasionally sounding swamped I could hear the music and singing just fine.
Musically, when it comes to the orchestra and conducting, it is even better. This is somewhat refreshing after seeing musically outstanding but visually wanting productions of theirs(such as their 1988 Guglielmo Tell for instance), however this time, this Manon Lescaut satisfied me musically and visually. The orchestra's playing has such a lushness to it, I admit their playing in the Intermezzo reduced me to tears, and Riccardo Muti's conducting is excellent, a more restrained approach to his usual briskness which was beneficial I feel.
The singing is generally great. I will be honest in saying that I would have preferred a more lyric voice than the more spinto-like one of Maria Guleghina. Her huge, full-throated voice is more suited for Abaigaille, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, Turandot and Lady Macbeth. This though doesn't stop her from giving a very moving performance in the title role, she is a riveting actress and, while some of her louder parts could've been less heavy and the sound could've served her better in the quieter parts, she is vocally powerful as well.
Jose Cura I am not a big fan of strictly speaking, I do like the baritone quality of his middle register, but especially now(such as his Zurich Turridu/Canio two years ago) his top can sound constricted. That said, he is very good as Des Grieux, at a point in his career where his top at forte level and above actually did ring, and where he is very passionate and ardent. There are occasions where his vocal production could've been more elegant and less coarse, but overall I can think of few other performances live where he has been this good.
Lucio Gallo is a superb Lescaut. Handsomely attired, dramatically charismatic and vocally rich, his performance is very nuanced, amusing and sympathetic. Veteran Luigi Roni plays Geronte. While he has been better, such as his chilling Grand Inquisitor, he is excellent in the role. Some of his voice may sound a tad worn, but considering the character I thought it was appropriate, and he makes for a strong presence on stage. In conclusion, excellent production. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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