Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Maintenant, Manon

October 16, 2006

The minute you walked in the joint
Anna Netrebko as Manon and Rolando Villazón as Des Grieux
Photo: Robert Millard/LA Opera 2006

So, let me get right to the point...I finally got around to seeing Manon at LA Opera this weekend with Mr. Villazón and Ms. Netrebko. While I did enjoy the evening on the whole, I have to admit it was mixed with some disappointment. Maybe my expectations were too high after so much exposure to hype and press before hand (a perennial problem for me), but the whole thing seemed somewhat stressed out.
Hey, big spender
Photo: Robert Millard/LA Opera 2006
Both of the leads felt strained in their upper ranges to my ear and the crowd seemed so intent on having the best possible time at any cost that everyone was ready to explode with excitement. The air wasn't so much electric as thermonuclear. The staging was certainly clever in its '50s update and costumes that referenced movie stars of the period including Taylor and Monroe. However, in all this attention to stimulating visual detail, the performance lost something in not relaxing enough to stop and smell Massenet's many flowers.

Not that things were rushed, it's just that the conductor, Mr. Domingo, may not have been the best gardener. He did work with director Vincent Paterson to prune nearly an hour from the score. While I didn't mind the cuts, perhaps he could have done more with what was left. The playing from the usually stronger LA Opera orchestra was anemic at best and Mr. Villazón and Ms. Netrebko often dragged things along by sheer will and star power.
We'll always have Los Angeles
Photo: Robert Millard/LA Opera 2006

Or maybe, as Alan Rich put it in the LA Weekly, the problem was that this was "French opera for those afraid of French opera."

I feel I'm being too critical. The producation is a lot of fun and you do feel that everyone on stage is having fun with it. On the upside, Mr. Villazón and Ms. Netrebko not only know how to sing but can, in fact, act and demonstrated a frequent willingness to do so yesterday. The "physicality" inserted into the piece worked and, in spite of myself, I was actually surprised how willing they were to do some of these maneuvers. Particularly, kudos go to Ms. Netrebko who had the cajones to pole-dance dressed as Marilyn Monroe, display the most cleavage I have yet seen on an operatic stage, and allow Des Grieux to playfully read from a letter strategically positioned on her crotch – all in one show. And here in LA that can mean only one thing, A Star is Born.

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