Puccini : Manon LescautNew York, Met, 1960 (Audio)
Director: Fausto Cleva
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Dorothy Kirsten in 'Manon' at the Met
Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," which last night occupied the Metropolitan's attention, is an opera that does not everywhere sail on its own accord. It needs a push, a shove to get it going; it needs a
strong and fresh breeze to keep it off the ground. And the performance in question, unfortunately, had very little of the animation and lyric passion necessary to keep it moving in other than a desultory and lackluster manner.
Not that the singing was outrageous or even bad, for that matter. It was simply uninspired and matter of fact. Miss Kirsten, in the title role, quite wanted in intensity, and while some phrases were roundly turned and pleasantly colored, there was no real distinction or mettle to her work.
As an indication of the chill that pervaded her interpretation, one might cite that moment in the second act where Des Grieux enters Manon's suite to reclaim her after their long separation (a condition caused by her leaving the tenor for a wealthier man). "Tu, tu, amore!" she is supposed to cry, almost in an ecstasy of rejoicing. But Miss Kirsten treated Des Grieux's arrival rather as though he had merely been away for a few minutes to fetch some sandwiches from the corner store. It was altogether a pale and non-dynamic exploration of female sentiment.
As for Mr. Bergonzi, he has provided, on other occasions, singing of far greater beauty, especially in so far as his bel canto skills are concerned and, though he, too, had his moments of vigor and warmth, the bulk of his work was shallow and superficial. This was especially true of his dramatic impersonation, which was never focused and thus lacked direction. Indeed, he performed the part as if it were a casual collection of arias and duets without much connection or theatrical meaning. And, further, the top of his range, on which Puccini puts considerable stress, did not have the high glow it is known to possess.
Among the other characters, the best singing was supplied by Mario Sereni, whose performance in the second act was an exceptional demonstration of lirico-baritone vocalism at its most luxurious and
affecting. As Geronte, Salvatore Baccaloni was adequate , and Charles Anthony's Edmundo offered but the slightest rewards.
However, Fausto Cleva, in the pit, reminded one again - if a reminder is needed - that he is among the most reliable of opera conductors, and, in fact, his gift of following the singers even to the point of intuiting their retards and rubati was an object lesson in the resources available to a maestro concerned with more than simply beating time. For that matter, what spark and flame there was to the whole "Manon" venture derived almost entirely from his presence.