Monday, February 18, 2008

Manon Lescaut Redux

My friends, it is difficult to know where to begin with my thoughts on the Met's HD broadcast of Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Well, no it's not, because it all begins and ends with Finnish soprano Karita Mattila.

In a word, Mattila is exuberant. Following act I, the lovely (and much less awkward!) Renée Fleming interviewed Ms. M. backstage. It was, nearly, the highlight of the broadcast. Karita is so genuine, full-of-life, chatterboxy, and quirky, that you just kind of fell in love with her charm. She did the splits, for crying-out-loud! Everyone in the audience was laughing, and we all applauded the end of the interview.

Karita brought that same exuberance to her performance, with mixed results. Her voice is lovely, to be sure, with a great mix of warmth and shimmer. I found her portrayal of Manon as an uncoordinated and awkward teenager off-the-mark. Certainly any girl of her rank and station would be educated to be supremely graceful and accomplished. She was a bit of a bull in a china shop in act II, and it seems that she actually did break a piece of the furniture. It was just a little over-the-top.

Her energy was perfect for the tragic scene of the lovers lost in the wasteland outside New Orleans (read Tommasini's review regarding Puccini's knowledge of Louisiana geography ...funny!). Her desperation and sense of her approaching death were very was lovely and perfect.

In summary, we definitely need performers like Karita Mattila. Her dedication to the art and can-do, full-of-life attitude can win over the fiercest opera critics. It's hard not to love her.

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