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Thread: Massenet on DVD and Blu-ray

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Default Massenet on DVD and Blu-ray



    A rarity: A modern, non-traditional opera production that works VERY well in my opinion. Whereas Massenet's Manon is set in the 1720's - Vincent Peterson moves it up to the 1950's, but it looks completely natural and for once it actually adds to the enjoyment of the work. I would dare to call this an inspired production.

    Any performance of Manon stands or falls depending on who plays the two main characters however. Vocally I prefer Renée Fleming as Manon in the traditional production by Francois Roussillon (which I also have on DVD) although Netrebko definitely holds her own. Visually and in terms of acting it's hard to imagine anyone being more suited to the part as presented in this production than the Russian girl. In the first act she looks like Audrey Hepburn, later on she looks sorta Elisabeth Taylor-ish, in the fourth act she looks like Marilyn Monroe and in the last act she looks, well, sick like she's supposed to. Rolando Villazon as the lovesick des Grieux sings and acts circles around Marcello Alvarez' des Grieux in the Roussillon production.

    [YT]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1WYPTshASs[/YT]


    [YT]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UQgImcQSY[/YT]


    [YT]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpGyCuEP40E[/YT]



    For a comparison: Here's Renée Fleming's Manon (same aria as Netrebko does in the second youtube).

    [YT]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4E3gX6L7z8[/YT]
    Last edited by jhar26; Dec-25-2010 at 14:54.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Just watched your youtubes, Gaston - oh gosh, how much I love this music, how much I love this opera. Just the opening notes of some of these scenes bring tears to my eyes. I see what you mean about the production - it's possible to adjust to the 'updating' very quickly and easily.

    Villazon is just superb, isn't he? Everything he touches turns to gold. I've been trying really hard not to keep wishing this were Dessay instead of Netrebko, and to approach hers for what it is - a different approach. I must say she looks fabulous in the white dress and sunhat, and for heaven's sake let me stop this nitpicking and say that this is a very fine version, to judge from these excerpts. If I were going to buy a second Manon DVD (which I might, one day), I can see I'd be struggling to choose between Netrebko and Fleming, and may well end up choosing Netrebko. So thanks very much indeed for this.

    For the sake of anyone passing who's unfamilar with the alternatives, here's a Youtube of Dessay and Villazon, for comparison.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    I've been trying really hard not to keep wishing this were Dessay instead of Netrebko, and to approach hers for what it is - a different approach.
    Well, she's the ideal Manon for this particular production. She's supposed to be this young lady who's obsessed with glamour and movie stars. The opening scene shows her reading some movie magazine. Let's face it, she looks the part. I've noticed that the Dessay/Villazon version also has gotten some great reviews which means that this opera with three more or less equally great versions is extremely well served on DVD. The Netrebko version is probably the best second buy because it's bound to look more different from the one you already have than the one with Fleming.
    Last edited by jhar26; Dec-25-2010 at 14:48.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jhar26 View Post
    she's the ideal Manon for this particular production. She's supposed to be this young lady who's obsessed with glamour and movie stars. The opening scene shows her reading some movie magazine. Let's face it, she looks the part.
    Yes, I think you're dead right - she's perfect for this production in a way that no one else could be, I think - and now you say that, I see that Dessay wouldn't have been right for this. The 'movie star' look is what's needed here, and Anna certainly has that!

    You ought to have a Dessay/Villazon as well though. Remind me to buy you one for Christmas.
    Last edited by Elgarian; Apr-13-2009 at 22:34. Reason: Changing a typo - 'v' to a 'z' - but in vain, because Gaston has already quoted it while it was incorrect. C'est la vie..

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    I have both Netrebko-Villazon and Dessay-Villazon DVD's of Massenet's Manon. Both are worth having but I am partial to the Dessay-Villazon version. I simply love the staging of the Spanish production. In fact, spanish staging in general has an attention to detail which simply amuses and delights me. The color of the Barcelona production is so right, the attention to detail so intriguing. Must be the constant sunshine that bathes eveyone in spain which affects the stage directors to pay so much attention to detail.... but I like it. If I were given the choice to move to a city that has a vibrant opera house I would not choose New-York or San-Francisco (I love the Met...) but would choose Madrid. I would see less operas of course but the enjoyment factor would be greater for me.

    I was reading some comments on another thread about the greatest operas ever ... (I don't really think a list can be tallied that way... maybe great opera moments or tidbits... but the greatest opera ever? Yes one can't avoid Wagner... but If I was marooned on a deserted Island and if the AUTOHORITY would grant me only 180 minutes of opera to take with me on the island... I would not hesitate to ask if I could bring a mix of my favorite operas? Yeah... I could live with that but couldn't endure just one opera. I would go completly crasy after three weeks of Wagner. But spice my days with some Mozart, some Rossini, some Puccini, some Bellini, a bit of Donizetti and a sprinkle of Wagner and a dash of Donizetti... and I guest I could make it alone with some help from les moments inoubliables of some great opera moments.

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    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Synopsis taken from wikipedia......

    Act 1
    Scene 1
    A group of Cenobite monks go about their daily business. Athanaël, the most rigorous ascetic of them all, enters and confesses to the senior monk, Palémon, that he has lately been disturbed by visions of a courtesan and priestess of Venus named Thaïs, whom he had seen many years ago in his native city of Alexandria. Believing these visions to be a sign from God, he resolves, against Palémon's advice, to return to Alexandria, convert Thaïs to Christianity, and persuade her to enter a convent.

    Scene 2
    Athanaël arrives in Alexandria and visits his old friend Nicias, a wealthy voluptuary. Nicias welcomes him with open arms and reveals himself to be Thaïs's current lover. Upon hearing Athanaël's plan, he laughs and warns him that the revenge of Venus can be terrible. Nevertheless, he procures clothing for his friend in preparation for a feast that evening at which Thaïs will appear. His slaves, Crobyle and Myrtale, dress Athanaël and mock his prudery.

    The feast begins. Thaïs arrives and sings a bittersweet love duet with Nicias: this is their last night together. She then asks him about Athanaël, who overhears her and tells her that he has come to teach her "contempt for the flesh and love of pain." Not tempted by this proposition, she offends his sense of propriety with a seductive song. He leaves, angrily promising to come back later. She taunts him with a parting shot: "Dare to come, you who defy Venus!"

    Act 2
    Scene 1
    Exhausted after the feast, Thaïs expresses dissatisfaction with her empty life and muses on the fact that one day, old age will destroy her beauty. Athanaël enters at this vulnerable moment, praying to God to conceal her beauty from him. He tells her that he loves her according to the spirit rather than the flesh, and that his love will last forever, instead of for a single night. Intrigued, she asks him to teach her the ways of this love. He nearly succumbs to her physical charm, but succeeds in explaining to her that if she converts, she will gain eternal life. She nearly succumbs to his eloquence, but then reasserts her nihilistic worldview and drives him away. However, after a long meditation she changes her mind.

    Scene 2
    Thaïs has joined Athanaël and resolved to follow him into the desert. He orders her to burn down her house and possessions in order to destroy all traces of her wicked past. She agrees, but asks if she can keep a statuette of Eros, the god of love, explaining to Athanaël that she sinned against love rather than through it. When he hears that Nicias gave it to her, however, Athanaël demands that she destroy it. Nicias appears with a group of revelers, who see Athanaël taking Thaïs away. Furious, they begin to stone him. Although Nicias is astonished at Thaïs' decision to leave, he respects it and throws handfuls of money to distract the crowd. Thaïs and Athanaël escape.

    Act 3
    Scene 1
    Thaïs and Athanaël travel on foot through the desert. Thaïs is exhausted, but Athanaël forces her to keep going and thus do penance for her sins. They reach a spring, where Athanaël begins to feel pity rather than disgust for her, and they share a few moments of idyllic, platonic companionship as they rest. Shortly afterwards, they reach the convent where Thaïs is to stay. Placing her in the care of Mother Superior Albine, Athanaël realizes that he has accomplished his mission—and that he will never see her again.

    Scene 2
    The Cenobite monks express anxiety over Athanaël's antisocial and morose behavior since his return from Alexandria. Athanaël enters and confesses to Palémon that he has begun to experience sexual longing for Thaïs. Palémon castigates him for having attempted to convert her in the first place. Athanaël falls into a depressed sleep and has an erotic vision of Thaïs. He tries to seize her, but she laughingly evades him. Then, a second vision tells him that Thaïs is dying.

    Scene 3
    Feeling that existence is worth nothing without her, he repudiates all his vows and rushes off to find her. He reaches the convent and finds her on her deathbed. He tells her that all he taught her was a lie, that "nothing is true but life and the love of human beings," and that he loves her. Blissfully unaware, she describes the heavens opening and the angels welcoming her into their midst. She dies, and Athanaël collapses in despair.


    Verdict

    This one is very much to my liking despite a few (minor) flaws:
    -1 The story is supposed to be set in the fourth century, but the producer John Cox (surprise! ) had different ideas. Hard to say which ones because after seeing this I'm still not quite sure exactly which period in history he had in mind, but my guess would be somewhere in the second half of the 19th century.
    -2 At the start of act three the two main characters are at the end of a long journey through the desert and are supposed to be exausted. Yet Renée still looks as though she just stepped out of a beauty parlor with not a hair out of place when something close to Kiri's look in the last act of that Manon Lescaut DVD that was reviewed yesterday would maybe have been more appropriate.
    -3 It doesn't bother me much, but I can imagine that some don't like to look behind the curtain and see the changes of scenery taking place during the orchestral bits between the different scenes. The short interviews we usually get between acts in Met broadcasts have this time been omitted from the main programme, but they have been added as a bonus feature. The only thing that I personally find mildly annoying are the occasional looks in the orchestra pit when action on stage is in progress.

    But never mind - none of this seriously interferes with the overall quality of this DVD. The scenery is attractive and the dresses of Renée are ravishing. To my eyes she looks spectacularly beautiful, but I admit that I've always had a bit of a crush on her . Anyway, it's easy to imagine any guy in sight falling in love with this Thais, that's for sure. Most important of all, the lady is in top form singing all of the music with great vocal beauty and hitting high notes with the greatest of ease. Thomas Hampson too is convincing as the emotionally disturbed monk who changes from a religious extremist into someone who's obsessed about the girl he just send to a convent. I found the last scene very moving. The dying Thais is sitting on a chair (as opposed to lying in bed) - at the end standing up singing gorgeous music while Hampson's Anthanaél is basically at her feet begging and trying to convince her (but never getting quite through to her) that there is no such thing as heaven and that he loves her. She dies, but comes out the winner - he lives but loses.
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Massenet: Werther



    Werther has been very successfully recorded several times (von Stade/Carreras, Kraus/Troyanos, Domingo/Obraztsova, Domingo/Fassbaender) and I have liked it very much. This is the first time I see a staged production. And I'm disappointed.

    First of all, with a staging like this, the act 1 & 2 could as well have been presented as a concert performance. Because there isn't much to look at the stage, we are taken to the wings where the singers wait for their turn to walk to the stage. Also, the changes of the non-existent scenery are shown in detail. In acts 3 & 4 there is the harpsichord and books that are referred to in the sung text and an attic room for Werther to die in.

    Despite of the fear that Kaufmann's followers will probably react very strongly I have to say that he just fails to touch me. Yes, he has a decent tenor voice and he can sing lovely pianissimos. Ans he is young and slim and handsome, if I am to understand correctly. But what use do I have for a Werther whose "Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?" leaves me cold? A Domingo here for me!

    Charlotte, Sophie Koch, doesn't touch much more, although she rises to the emotional moments quite well. But all the female singers mentioned above are better all along, even Obraztsova with her peculiar voice, and my absolute favourite in this role remains Brigitte Fassbaender - maybe an odd choice for Charlotte, but the chemistry or electricity or whatever works wonders in a performance that was made for a radio broadcast, if I have understood correctly. For the Charlotte here, a comment by Thackerey on Goethe's novel (quouted from Kobbe's Opera Book) might be apt:

    Charlotte, having seen his body
    Borne before her on a shutter,
    Like a well-conducted person,
    Went on cutting bread-and-butter.

    Also ran: Anne-Catherine Gillet as Sophie - nothing spectacular, nothing to complain either. And all the rest.

    I haven't checked if there are any alternatives on DVD for this, but you could probably wait for one, unless you happen to be a Kaufmann-enthusiast.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herkku View Post
    I haven't checked if there are any alternatives on DVD for this, but you could probably wait for one, unless you happen to be a Kaufmann-enthusiast.
    Although I haven't seen this one, I'm prepared to bet that it is better:



    I just think that Marcelo and Elina are more likely to do a better job.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Other alternatives:







    I have only seen the above greenish aberration, and didn't like it.
    It may also be due to the fact that I can't stand the whiny wimpy character Werther with his romantic longing for death (admitedly Goethe's fault rather than Massenet's, but still). My impulse is to yell at him - will you please kill yourself already and stop bothering us? Granted that Pourquoi me réveiller is outstanding, but this is definitely not one of my favorite operas. But I'm hoping to get the Elina-Marcelo version some day and maybe I'll change my mind.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    For me it was the other way around. I had always liked the opera on audio recordings, but seeing it made me almost loathe it! Werther is certainly a wimp as a character. Fortunately Domingo couldn't sound like a wimp, no matter how hard he tried. BTW, I didn't know that my beloved Fassbaender would be in a film also. A "girl" like she could have easily taken the pistol, shot the wimp herself, and got on with her life. Not that Albert would appear so much more likeable, but he is still a man with a steady income. Money talks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Herkku View Post


    Werther has been very successfully recorded several times (von Stade/Carreras, Kraus/Troyanos, Domingo/Obraztsova, Domingo/Fassbaender) and I have liked it very much. This is the first time I see a staged production. And I'm disappointed.

    First of all, with a staging like this, the act 1 & 2 could as well have been presented as a concert performance. Because there isn't much to look at the stage, we are taken to the wings where the singers wait for their turn to walk to the stage. Also, the changes of the non-existent scenery are shown in detail. In acts 3 & 4 there is the harpsichord and books that are referred to in the sung text and an attic room for Werther to die in.

    Despite of the fear that Kaufmann's followers will probably react very strongly I have to say that he just fails to touch me. Yes, he has a decent tenor voice and he can sing lovely pianissimos. Ans he is young and slim and handsome, if I am to understand correctly. But what use do I have for a Werther whose "Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?" leaves me cold? A Domingo here for me!

    Charlotte, Sophie Koch, doesn't touch much more, although she rises to the emotional moments quite well. But all the female singers mentioned above are better all along, even Obraztsova with her peculiar voice, and my absolute favourite in this role remains Brigitte Fassbaender - maybe an odd choice for Charlotte, but the chemistry or electricity or whatever works wonders in a performance that was made for a radio broadcast, if I have understood correctly. For the Charlotte here, a comment by Thackerey on Goethe's novel (quouted from Kobbe's Opera Book) might be apt:

    Charlotte, having seen his body
    Borne before her on a shutter,
    Like a well-conducted person,
    Went on cutting bread-and-butter.

    Also ran: Anne-Catherine Gillet as Sophie - nothing spectacular, nothing to complain either. And all the rest.

    I haven't checked if there are any alternatives on DVD for this, but you could probably wait for one, unless you happen to be a Kaufmann-enthusiast.
    I had completely the opposite reaction - I absolutely adored this (apart from the occasionally intrusive and bizarre camera work). I was absolutely riveted by Kauffman, Koch and Tezier. On the other hand Domingo, for me, was completely unconvincing as the death obsessed poet - He recorded it in that period where he tended to essay a general all-purpose ardour in every role and there is nothing to distinguish his Werther from his Manrico or Jose. Obratzova is just about unlistenable IMHO - Her Amneris on a wobble board voice and excecrable French should have ruled her out as a contender for the role.
    I wouldn't bother with the Vienna DVD recording - It's another regietheater production.

    Sebastian

  13. #12
    Senior Member Herkku's Avatar
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    Default Massenet on DVD and Blu-Ray



    Lahore being in the news from time to time nowadays as a site of political/religious unrest, I couldn't help myself but had to include Le Roi de Lahore by Massenet. In this opera there is a battle between Hindu and Muslim forces. I don't know what they are fighting about now that Lahore is a part of Pakistan, a Muslim country, exploding mosques and so on. This is best left to other forums.

    Le Roi de Lahore was the first new opera performed at the Palace Garnier, Paris. So, quite an honour for the composer. All kind of exoticism was very much in fashion (it was premiered in 1877). Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles we have already dealt with (and this performance comes from the same opening season of Teatro la Fenice - although now we are in the actual newly-built opera house!), Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, Delibes' Lakme (Oh! When shall we have a production of it with Dessay?) and so on. Here the exoticism reaches its peak in the headware, otherwise everything is very stylish.

    My reference here is the audio recording by Sutherland(already having the distinctive beat in her voice), Lima, Milnes, Bonynge.

    Sitâ, Ana María Sánchez, may not be slim, but has a beautiful, strong voice, of course younger than Sutherland's and without a hint of the beat. She may not be the most convincing singing actress, but this is not an opera where it would matter very much. None of the male singers have an opportunity to show off with their acting talents either. Alim (the tenor) is sung by Giuseppe Gipali (?), Scindia (the baritone) by Vladimir Stoyanov, Indra (the bass) by Federico Sacchi, all perfectly accecptable.

    The music is beautiful throughout, but not particularly memorable. If there is one aria that catches your attention, it's "Repose, ô belle amoureuse" of Kaled (a minor role), sung by Cristina Sogmaister - very much like the aria of Neris in Medea! Everything is conducted by Marcello Viotti, who died the next year.

    So, if you are contemplating the purchase of the La Fenice box, here is another reason. As far as I know, there is no competition on DVD.

  14. #13
    Senior Member DarkAngel's Avatar
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    Default Massenet on DVD and Blu-ray



    Just watched these two Manons..........

    First let me say I find the Massenet Manon is much better and more entertaining than the follow up Puccini Manon Lescaut, the Puccini plot has huge holes that disrupt coherent story development and ending is so disjointed and heavy handed it makes me wonder if Puccini was playing a joke on us.....

    Renee Fleming
    2001 production that initially impressed me greatly, Fleming and Alvarez (Chevalier) worked well together and vocally Fleming was in great form giving us some real thrills receiving several ovations during performance. Stage production was semi modern with period items only added in if story required them, costumes were elaborate period correct and looked very impressive, very entertaining overall. If I had not seen the Dessay McVicar production I would have thought this was about as good as it gets for Manon.

    One problem I was not thrilled with the stark bare stage treatment in final act where Manon "magically" walks in to meet Chevalier Des Grieux seemingly out of thin air and do her farewell death scence.......need to at least make some effort to set circumstances of this important scence with some stage production

    Natalie Dessay
    This 2007 McVicar production is easily my favorite Manon, this had levels of detail and development that the Fleming version only scratched the surface of. McVicar is a wizard at keeping action developing at all times, during overture and between acts there is still activity to see on stage. There are things going on with crowd scences that are just as interesting as main event, very creative developments. The elaborate dance numbers were way ahead of any other version I have seen. The decadance and sexual debauchery at the gambling house is taken to typical McVicar visual extremes.....which is why we love him so!

    Typical McVicar touch watch Dessay sing the "table song" bidding farewell to her life in the apartment with Chevalier, she caresses the table gets on top and relives some intimate memories, excessive - perhaps but definitely entertaining and deeply emotional

    Table Song

    I love how Dessay starts dressed as this tomboy ragamuffin and evolves into this vain self absorbed dark creature of high society who brings ruin on those around her......this dark side development is much more emphasized than in the Fleming version which makes the story tragedy work much better for me. At last the final scence is set up properly with soldiers and wagon of girls in route to ship yard, because the story was so carefully and fully developed by McVicar her remorse and sense despair actually makes perfect sense, bravo

    I love this version, if only there was a Blu-ray available

    I would change one thing, cut off that silly hair extension on Rolando Villazon and use full wig or just short hair! Looks like the worst redneck mullet haircut you have ever seen from the 1980s


    My next Manon to watch is a modern remake (Villazon returns without mullet)

    Last edited by DarkAngel; Dec-28-2010 at 17:10.

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Well, of course Anna's version is much better!
    (OK, now Gaston will say I'm fully on board)
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  16. #15
    Senior Member jhar26's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Almaviva View Post
    Well, of course Anna's version is much better!
    (OK, now Gaston will say I'm fully on board)
    Welcome to Opera on DVD and Blue-ray, Alma!
    Martha doesn't signal when the orchestra comes in, she's just pursing her lips..

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