John | Seattle, WA United States | 12/06/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with Robert Levine's statements about Fleming needing to warm into the role, but to me it is only in the very first scene, Manon's entrance, that she seems a bit off. I'm not sure if it is because she is just warming up at the beginning of the opera or if it is her approach the younger more naïve side of Manon that doesn't work for me. She adopts an overly coy quality that just sounds odd and awkward. All the notes are there (even the touched high E in her first aria), and the intentions behind them are clear, but she sounds too "fake" -- like a mature seductress trying to act naïve (which I suppose in a stretch could be a justifiable approach, although it seems at odds with the music). This type of perky girlish simplicity may just be a certain facet of characterization that isn't one of Fleming's strengths as a singing actress. From the duet at Des Greiux's entrance on, she is remarkable. So many details of phrasing and color! Special mention must be given to Fleming in the extremely difficult Cours-la-reine scene, which glitters brilliance and exudes sex appeal. She adds some unique phrasing touches to the "Je marche sur tous le chemin" section. Not too much and not too drastic - she doesn't distort the music, but makes very strong emphasis of Massenet's own meticulous markings in the score. And she executes her interpretation with such control! Her voice just rings with glamour and her two high D's are full, huge, dazzling notes, seemingly held forever.
The tenor Alvarez is very good, but not brilliant. More innate personal charm would help make him a great Des G. I loved the Lescaut of Jean-Luc Chaignaud. This is a singer I'm not familiar with and he is impossibly sexy and suave in the role (with just a hint of the buffoon)."
Great Manons On Record: Renee Fleming
Rudy Avila | Lennox, Ca United States | 08/16/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Another fine Manon. While there are times I find Renee Fleming is only a fab singer because shes' one of the few American opera singers to really make it big and because she really only rides on the success of "echo" performers (I swear there are times she reminds me of such artists as Montserrat Caballe, Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, Beverly Sills, Kiri Te Kanawa and Emmy Ameling). This is not to say shes' a phony. She has great talent and she is unique, but she does hark back to the forementioned singers if you study her technique. Nevertheless, this Manon is finely sung by Fleming. A great thing about this record is the fact its a fine mix of French and Spanish, and that I like!! Recorded at the Paris Opera in 2001, its music is played by French forces and it features two Spanish artists- the conductor himself Jesus Lopez-Cobos and tenor Marcelo Alvarez.
Renee Fleming has never been in more control than she is as Manon. Really, it even surpasses her Rusalka, for which she is more famously known. Rusalka has nowhere near the depth and complexity of Manon. Fleming, with her vast love of opera and her predecessors who sang the role, has a wide range of emotions in her portrayal. She intones every line with technical bravura, graceful French lyricism (she should sing more French roles like the Lucia in French or the Tales of Hoffman heroines or more Massenet heroines or Juliette in Gounod's Marguerite heroine). Fleming has a high gleaming gorgeous top (C's E's) and a nicely developed middle register. As Manon, she is captivating and beautiful. The tenor Marcelo Alvarez is absolutely great as Des Grieux, making use of all his talents from the soft lines to the more bombastic ones. All in all, a great Manon and a must have for Fleming fans. This is quite frankly her best work. I mean that. She may continue to sing Italian roles but she is going to be unsurpassed in French repertoire should she continue or Strauss German roles."
A truly outstanding Manon on every level
The Cultural Observer | 03/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Massenet's operas have been particularly lucky on disc lately, but none other is luckier than his Manon. Massenet's heroines usually require sopranos of the highest calibre, and his parts usually defy typification. You can have a dramatic coloratura or a lyric soprano, or you can have what this recording boasts: a soprano dramatico coloratura assoluta who has the goods to sing all the role's intricacies and more. Some of the more renowned singers who have assumed the title role are Fanny Heldy, Bidu Sayao, Victoria de los Angeles, and Beverly Sills. In the recent years, Anna Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu have had things to say about the role, but no other soprano I believe touches the totality of Manon's character while providing the same degree of technical accuracy and bravura that Renée Fleming has in spades in this recording. Her voice is said by others to be too ripe for the part, but I disagree. Indeed, Miss Fleming has the beautiful voice to give the role the pathos and the sultriness that it needs to make Manon credible, but she adds more to the character to complete a portrayal that is essentially the embodiment of the character. Not a single trick is missed by Ms. Fleming...you get Manon's coloratura with all the high notes intact and secure while basking in the beauty of her voice. True, her first act may not have the girlish charm that lighter voiced soprani have as part of their natural physiology, but her "Adieu, notre petite table" is as glorious as it can be. The second act is even more compelling, and the scenes that follow, especially the St. Sulpice scene, is never bettered by any soprano, before or after. The voluptuous quality of Ms. Fleming's voice is an asset like no other, and she knows how to play it well in this recording. Her last act, when she goes through her gradual decline into her death, is devastating. This is truly the work of a great artist. If Renée Fleming is not considered one of the greatest Manon's in history, I don't know who else would be.
The other asset in this recording is Marcelo Álvarez's definite Lescaut. Not even Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus, or Roberto Alagna have sung the role so compellingly, and Álvarez gives the role a certain magic touch that makes the chevalier such a great tenor role. His assumption of the part is complete, boyish in the first two acts, dreadfully aware and resentful in the second, wild and tragic in the last. His voice is perfect for it too, and all the dynamic shadings are covered by his excellent technique.
The remainder of the French cast is idiomatically correct and just right. Jean-Luc Chaignaud fits the part of Lescaut like a foil, while Alain Vernhes is dignified as the Comte de Grieux. Jesus Lopez-Cobos may not have the abundance of imagination to say something about the score the way that a Barbirolli or a Beecham could, but everything here is paced wonderfully to give singers the upper hand in this greatest of all French operas.