Manon. Berlin State Opera. April 29th 2007, Premiere. Production: Vincent Paterson. Cast: Anna Netrebko (Manon), Rolando Villazón (des Grieux), Christof Fischesser (Comte des Grieux). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim.
Vincent Paterson, whose earlier works include music videos and concert tours for Michael Jackson and Madonna among others, directed this Manon production at the Berlin State Opera, previously shown at Los Angeles Opera. In the German press, he was heavily criticized for making Manon look like a prolonged pop music video. To a certain degree I completely agree: In a way this production does look like a stylized, smooth neverending video. Simple sets, elegant, colourful costumes, good-looking participants etc. And what exactly is wrong with pop music videos?
And was Rolando Villazon/Anna Netrebko worth the money? Depends on how much you payed for your ticket, I suppose, as I am not sure I would have found any spectacle to be worth the 1000 Euros some people in the audience had payed for their seats. However, the short answer to the question is: Yes. They were worth the money.
Anna Netrebko is just as superb a stage actress as everyone says she is and she is entirely believable as Manon. Her Manon is a glittering movie-star Manon, never less than glamerous, even when she suffers. That her fleeting voice was quite large and easily over-powered Rolando Villazon was more surprising.
Rolando Villazón is an equally convincing singer-actor, playing up to his strenghts as a stage performer being shy, naïve and slightly submaniac, with suits a des Grieux just fine. With his warm voice added on top he is simply an excellent des Grieux.
That Christof Fischesser managed to hold his own in this company is no small achievement.
Daniel Barenboim was predicably excellent in what I believe to be both the first and last time he conducted Manon. Apparently the originally contracted Bertrand de Billy withdrew for personal reasons.
In theory, one would imagine there to be plenty of relatively young, good-looking opera singers around able to convincingly portray these characters, but I am not so sure. I still wouldn´t pay 1000 Euros to go and see these two (I wouldn´t pay 1000 Euros to see anyone) though they are definitely worth traveling to see.
This Manon production is released on DVD autumn 2008
Photographs: Monika Rittershaus