Sunday, October 01, 2006

Manon does Hollywood

On Saturday Manon opened at the LA opera. This very French production of Massenet's Manon actually comes from a Frankfurt designer. The visual images of French life in the 1950's bring a strong sense of place which I found reassuring.

Manon begins her theatrical life during the overture still on the train to the convent. She is dressed as a French school girl in a red beret. She applies her makeup. She removes her socks and draws a line down the back of her leg to create the effect of nylon stockings.

There were the usual unexplained elements to puzzle over--a row of army men opposite a row of priests, and men setting up spotlights and pushing them around the stage. When Manon needs to stand out from the crowd, as when des Grieux falls instantly in love with her, the spotlights are turned on her.

Manon's descent is traced in her costumes, like something from a film with Leslie Caron, like Gigi Turns to the Dark Side, perhaps. In des Grieux's apartment she has lost most of her clothing and engages in some child-like pillow fighting with her lover. She is torn with indecision, but ultimately allows him to be abducted. As the partner of her rich lover she is all in white with huge crinolines and a large hat, the portrait of a sophisticated grownup. To seduce des Grieux from his priestly calling she appears in vivid red.

Anna Netrebko completes this magical descent with her actions. She transforms from the school girl who loves pleasure too much, to the sophisticated queen of Paris, to the complete decadent of the gambling scene where she wears a blond wig and does a respectable pole dance, to the drab, ill, penitent of the final scene. It was a pleasure to watch.

The color of Anna's voice traced the same arc from school girl lightness, to maturity, to dark depression. She skipped lightly through "Obéissons quand leur voix appelle," was sweetly seductive in "N'est-ce plus ma main?" and darkly repentent in the final act. I would not be surprised should she suddenly begin to walk on water.

Rolando Villazon was his usual vivid self, but his voice seemed closed and covered and did not fully open up until the end. I'm hoping this is a temporary condition and not the beginnings of a problem. He looked adorable in his Rick's bar white dinner jacket and pencil mustache, the very picture of the decadent gambler. They made a remarkably sleezy pair.

Placido Domingo conducted. In the bows which went on longer than expected, Anna bounced up and down and waved, enjoying yet another triumph. I smiled all the way through. I'm still smiling now.

She is the diva of our time, and will possibly transform opera into her image. Like all of life, it is for a moment only. She is at her peak now. Rearrange your life to see this.

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