Laurent Pelly, who directed the production of Massenet’s Manon that arrived at the Met on Monday, tends to confuse inventiveness and preciousness. His Manon, updated to the Belle Epoque 1880s, can be charming, but the cutesiness gets exhausting, with all the cheerfully out-of-scale sets and the choruses mugging and freezing in time with the music.
And he sometimes overplays his hand. It is mesmerizing when someone from the chorus—one of the crowd of anonymous, top-hat-wearing gentlemen who haunt the production—seems to guide a ballerina through her paces with his walking stick during the ballet in the Cours-la-Reine scene. In a few seconds you perceive all of the sexual tension and latent misogyny in the opera’s world; it’s fabulous. But it is much less mesmerizing, and much more ordinary, when the scene ends with a violent mass abduction of the ballerinas. It comes across, perversely, as more cutesiness.
The great soprano Anna Netrebko fully gets the doomed Manon’s mixture of girlishness and sensuality. (It would be fascinating to see what Mr. Alden would do with her and this opera.) Her voice is blooming recently; some moments in which she has trouble getting it fully aloft are more than compensated for by long passages of magnetic richness. And the tenor Piotr Beczala, as her tortured lover Des Grieux, is a singer of consummate classiness.
With a well-paced if not especially delicate orchestral performance led by Fabio Luisi, it was a lovely evening. But thanks to Mr. Pelly, it was also oddly harried and uncomfortably detached. City Opera wins the week.
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