Sometimes one comes across a DVD that is perfectly adequate but one really wonders why that particular production/performance was picked for a DVD release. Such is the 2014 recording of Massenet’s Manon from L’Opéra Royal de Wallonie. Daniel Barenboim once said that the only reason to do this piece was a s a vehicle for star singers. I’m not sure I entirely agree but having them helps enormously and when the catalogue already has recordings of Netrebko and Dessay, both with Villazon one wonders how Annick Massis and Alessandro Liberatore can compete. Bottom line, they can’t really.
The production, by Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera, has its moments. It’s mostly created in pastel shades and the chorus scenes in Acts 1, 3 and 4 are quite pretty. There’s even a curious kind of flashback effect in Act 1 where end-of-opera Manon and Des Grieux seem to be singing about how they met while it’s acted out behind a scrim. It would have been nice though if the director had given as much attention to the direction of the characters. There’s a lot of operatypical gesturing, especially from Liberatore. And there’s no big idea. It’s not as glitzy as the Berlin “film star” production or as dark as the Lyceu effort. It’s just kind of OK.
It’s the same with the performances. The leading lady and man are both very adequate singers who would happily go see and the elder Des Grieux; Roger Joakim, is quite distinguished. The eye candy quotient is quite high too with more than average amounts of flesh on display (though not perhaps a match for a young Netrebko in her underwear). Both orchestra and chorus are decent and conductor Patrick Davin seems to have the French vibe down. But, a “night to remember” it’s not.
Technically it’s perfectly OK DVD. The picture is good. Curiously the stereo sound track seems to be more vivid than the Dolby surround, though even that is OK. Jacques Croisier’s video direction is unobtrusive though he does flit back and forth in front and behind the scrim in Act 1. I’m not sure why. The booklet contains a track listing and an essay contrasting the Massenet with the near contemporary Puccini version. Subtitle options are English, French, Italian, German and Korean.
Bottom line, if you saw this performance in your local opera house you likely wouldn’t complain but it isn’t really special enough to stand up in the DVD catalogue.