Essential French opera recording
Michael K. Halloran | 04/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Massenet's "Manon" may very well be the luckiest recorded opera there is. If there is a poor studio version of this French charmer, I have yet to hear it. Beverly Sills' version comes close to perfection, and we have stylish and excellent entries from Ileana Cotrubas and Angela Gheorghiu as well. But perhaps this early Monteaux recording is best of all, capturing the real flavor of the Opera-Comique and fielding, except for Victoria de los Angeles in the title role, an entire cast of native French speakers.Everyone sings stylishly and with great attention to words and drama. Michel Dens is a swaggering, virile Lescaut with a handsome baritone which displays a little thinness only on top. Henri Legay is a true French tenor, lightweight and heady, with style to spare. He opens "Ah, fuyez douce image" with a beautifully supported pianissimo and builds his phrases nicely, never straining or blasting.The real star of the show, however, is Madame de los Angeles. She is a natural charmer, and this role fits her like a glove. She cannot give us the high coloratura options that Sills does, but she does have a warmer, fuller tone. Her delivery is less self-conscious and artificial than lesser Manons, and she never stoops to trying to sound coy or girlish in Act One. Instead, she sings naturally, with that delicious smile in the voice, and we as her listeners are bewitched. This is a Manon one always can sympathize with, even in her petulant and self-absorbed moments.Monteaux conducts with energy and vigor, although the traditional stage cuts are observed. The sound is excellent mono, clear and full, never boxy like some of the early Callas recordings. The spoken sections have a tendency to sound "tracked in," which they most likely were, at a later date.Which is the best "Manon?" It really is a toss up between this and the Sills recording. Depending on how my mood strikes me, I might choose one over the other, but it is a tough call. If you have a preference for Sills or De Los Angeles, let that be your guide. Otherwise, if your budget allows, I truly recommend you have both recordings in your collection. They are masterpieces."
De los Angelos makes Manon's death a real tragedy1
D. J. Edwards | Cheshire, CT United States | 02/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No one has made so real and tragic Manon's death as Victoria de Los Angeles does in this recording. With the beauty and sincerity of her singing, the vulnerability of Manon's love of des Grieux and desire for wealth becomes painfully real as we realize the inevitable price of such passion. I'm puzzled by the mixed review of Legay's Des Grieux. His 'Ah, fuyez douce image", surpassing any other rendition of this aria I have every heard including Nicolai Gedda's, opens with a beautiful pianissimo and plea that is shatteringly stunning. The rest of the cast are all French speaking and all together make this a magnificent tribute not only to the heavenly de los Angeles, but to Monteux who enraptures us with this masterpiece of a recording. The strengths and miracles of this recording have no superior and few equals, the Sills Manon being the only one of them. The choice is a personal choice - but no one loses in that choice."
AN ABSOLUTE CLASSIC
Charlus | NYC | 01/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Suffice it to say that this is a VAST improvement on EMI's CD re-issue of this recording. A VAST improvement. EMI's was shallow, edgy and generally unpleasant--obviously an old work-tape was dubbed onto CD and left at that.
This crystal-clear TESTAMENT remastering has far more depth and perspective, a stronger bass response and a far smoother treble: night and day.
The 1956 performance is an absolute classic, including a priceless Opéra-Comique ensemble led by the most famous French conductor of the 20th Century, Pierre Monteux.
In the title rôle, the charming Spanish soprano Victoria de los Ángeles (1923-2004) is simply a dream, combining a superb command of the idiom and a lovely, full, silvery timbre rarely heard from French sopranos. This was unquestionably her best stage part. She is ably seconded by the elegant French lyric tenor, Henri Legay.
The rest of the cast understands the style and traditions of this music as in no other modern recording. Listen to Henri Borthayre as des Grieux père or the unforgettable René Hérent as Guillot: this is what true ensemble-playing by an ensemble of STARS means!
This is an indispensable historical document, besides being a most pleasurable musical experience.
The coupling of de los Ángeles-Boston-Münch NUITS D'ÉTÉ (Berlioz) another absolute classic comparable to the supreme Régine Crespin recording on Decca 460973 [ASIN: B00000JXZ4 ] is but an added inducement to this feast!