, July 2009
Musically and visually, this recording of the Paris Opera’s 2001 mounting of Jules Massenet’s 1884 opera Manon is sumptuous. Although she may no longer be ideally youthful for the title role of the girl whose romance with a boyish chevalier ends in disaster, Renée Fleming produces (especially in the later acts) a ravishing tone while handling the demanding coloratura with effortless aplomb. Fleming is nicely matched by Marcelo Alvarez as the chevalier, whose suave tenor is capable of both sensitivity and power, while the secondary roles are also well appointed, with a special nod to veteran Michel Sénéchal as Guillot. If the orchestral accompaniment under Jesús López Cobos is not perfectly refined, the music (presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM stereo) is nevertheless rich and full. The staging by Gilbert Deflo is excellent as well—not a Eurotrash modernization, but rather defiantly traditional, with colorful costumes and handsome but never overly ostentatious sets. Even the ballet interludes, so often mere time-killers, come off well here. Unfortunately, this performance features some serious cuts (most notably at the end of Act I and the close of the first scene of Act III) that may lessen the appeal for anyone desiring a truly complete version of the opera. Aside from that drawback, this is easily recommended.