[Met Performance] CID:183010
Manon {187} Metropolitan Opera House: 10/28/1959.

(Debuts: Teresa Stratas, Joan Wall
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
October 28, 1959


MANON {187}
Massenet-Meilhac/Gille

Manon...................Victoria de los Angeles
Des Grieux..............Nicolai Gedda
Lescaut.................Ralph Herbert
Count des Grieux........Giorgio Tozzi
Guillot.................Alessio De Paolis
Brétigny................George Cehanovsky
Poussette...............Teresa Stratas [Debut]
Javotte.................Helen Vanni
Rosette.................Joan Wall [Debut]
Innkeeper...............Calvin Marsh
Guard...................Charles Kuestner
Guard...................Lloyd Strang
Maid....................May Savage
Sergeant................Giulio Mollica
Dance...................Nancy King
Dance...................Lolita San Miguel
Dance...................Donald Martin

Conductor...............Jean Morel

Director................Nathaniel Merrill
Set designer............Ellen Meyer
Choreographer...........Zachary Solov

Manon received seven performances this season.

Review of Jay S. Harrison in the Herald Tribune

First 'Manon' of Season Is Presented at the Met

Every country - the major powers especially - boasts that it is able to deal with the music of native sons as no other. Thus we are told that there is no Mozart outside of Austria, that Wagner is the exclusive property of Germany, that French music never sounds genuinely French unless it is given in France, that Italian scores lose their bloom when deprived of the Umbrian sun. This, you can easily imagine, puts the Metropolitan Opera at a marked disadvantage, since we have no native repertory to call our own and must therefore fill our stages with imports that - as it is given out abroad - suffer from the sea-journey dividing them from their home. Last night, for example, we had the first performance this season of Massenet's "Manon," a work it is claimed you will hear nowhere better done than in Paris.

I have heard it often there, gone to it regularly, indeed, as I find the piece melodically irresistible and dramatically appealing, But it has been rare in my experience to come across a reading more Frenchified than as that presented by the. Met last night. And this with a cast including, in its leads, a Spaniard, a Swede, an Austrian an American, an Italian and a Russian, There was in attendance, it is true, a, French maestro, but his presence simply added the final fillip of authority to a rendition that was, to begin with, as French as fine wine or a shrug of disdain.

Further, the work seemed, on [scanning] the program, to be cast to perfection. Take, for example, the case of Miss de los Angeles. Since she is rather neutral of temperament, any style but the most inflamed suits her, finds her in healthy command of all her vocal resources. I can imagine Miss de los Angeles being put out of countenance by a grand passion of the Isolde type - not that she would attempt to sing the role of course - for the serenity of her vocal statement does not lend itself easily to, grawing deep-felt sentiment. But as a coquette, as a courtesan, as a girl who finds love satisfactory only when it can be turned on or off, she has few peers and no superiors. She is made - as her lyric voice reminded us again last night - for the casual amour, for the romance that prefers to subsist on happy flirtation rather than panting ardor. She is no Elisabeth out to purify the world, nor yet a Salome bent on amoralizing it, She is what she is, a charmer; and Manon is neither more nor less.

For his part, Des Grieux is presented by his composer as a youth all green and hopeful, and Nicolai Gedda, who sang the role, strikes me as very much the young cavalier who dreams of cottages in the country while lusting after girls in the city. It is no matter that in private life, neither Miss de los Angeles nor Mr. Gedda are what they seem to be on stage, For four hours, on this occasion, Miss de los Angeles and Mr. Gedda were Manon and des Grieux. Nothing else matters.

What does matter, however, is that for all the French savor and alertness that characterized the evening there was a chill to the entire proceedings. Early in the night a frost came upon the stage and no amount of loveliness in the singing was able to thaw it out. A shade remote, too, was the whole performance, so that some of it emerged rather like music heard through walls. The kind of "presence" that makes a tune or a phrase virtually spill over the footlights and curl up in the listener's lap was nowhere encountered. "Manon," as a whole, as distant, detached and rather cold.

And this despite quite sympathetic portrayals from all concerned, and a floating atmosphere, as I have said, that was, recognizably French. Miss de los Angeles sang with all of the prettiness inherent in the part, her "Adieu, notre petite table" being particularly radiant; and Mr. Gedda, though touch of vigor might have helped, was polished of voice and far more pliable of movement than one remembers his being in the past. Mr. Tozzi's Count rang deeply and darkly, and as the stamp of high professionality informs his every gesture his impersonation was thoroughly right and well considered. Mr. Herbert, on the other hand, seemed to be playing a bit more broadly than circumstances warrant, though both the Messrs. De Paolis and Cehanovsky were their usual impeccable selves, unable at any time to make a blunder of any kind.

Still, as I say, one was able to admire what was happening without really being caught up in it. Mind you, there was nothing absolutely wrong (apart from a tired-sounding orchestra), but neither was there the brand of enterprise that makes even the severest objection seem minimal in importance. Yes, in its trappings. "Manon" was French and frothy. But the work does have a heart and that, last night, was still.



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