Yesterday was the last day of Met Opera's Manon (Massenet) production for this season. The last performance was broadcasted to the world via MetHD Live series. Massenet's 'Manon' is not the outstanding piece among the program one can say, falling behind Porgy and Bess, new productions and scandalous Macbeth. However, it is a safe piece that will always attract audiences, and a perfect piece for a diva-to-be. Yesterday, I witnessed a new diva entering the field: young, fresh and brialliant.
Lisette Oropesa's Manon was extraordinary. I never seen her perform before and I was very happy to see a new diva entering the field. Her take of La Traviata in 2020 shouldn't be missed! Aside from Manon's vocal range, the different skills needed for each act was easily concured by Oropesa. Her different vocal character in each act supported by her convincing acting created an innocent, relatable Manon. For me, Manon is the most difficult female character in 19th century opera since her story and death is the consequence of her decisions. Audience doesn't immediately understand her motives and get touched by her story, that's why it's not easy to make audience feel sorry for Manon. Her acting showed the character development scene by scene in Pelly's demanding production.
Pelly's production placed the opera in Belle Epoque; at the same time the opera is written. Setting for the whole opera is minimalistic. It doesn't have a Paris glory, even the festival scenes are a bit distant and cold. Maybe we are so used to Zefirelli's way of seeing Paris, but I definitely searched for something cosy.
The main thing about the production that bothers me is to see all the men in black either gazing or chasing women. From the very beginning, men waited for the new arrivers at the top of the staircase while women were looking through the window. Women side characters seem to be pushed to the background. The male point of view - the male gaze as Mulvey suggests- is important for the story, we are in a world that woman's future is all about men: either they marry someone decent, either they go to convent for being too friendly, or they became courtuzans to become rich. The men in black appeared thoughout the opera: they were gazing the new arrivers, later they were walking outside Manon & des Grieux's home, they were window shopping women at the festival... Clearly, we were watching Manon from a male perspective. We saw the ballet pleasing only men, their kidnapping of the balerinas as a funny excerpt.. Audience forced to think that this was a very ordinary situation and Manon just being a part of it as opposed to her becoming a victim of the choices she's forced to choose by men. Also, audience wasn't just witnessing the male gaze, we were also forced to gaze; both woman display and ballet performance was meant for the audience as well. This comment is meant for the regular auditorium audience, Live HD audiences seeing close up Manon's and her wonderful facial gestures had a different experience.
I loved the choir's froze ups! When they were commenting on a situation and not advancing the plot; like commenting on the roadtrip experience and gambling, they all froze and just sang the lines. When lines changed, they continue to act. It was entertaining :) I couldn't resist to mention one more time that even the gambling scenes lacked its glory. We couldn't understand what Manon envies throughout the opera, we were never shown.
In cinemas, thanks to close ups and different angles of the cameras, we had a different experience. Especially the facial expressions become so much important when it is filmed. Oropesa's facial acting was extraordinary, in duets with Fabiano, she never looked away from him for a second. I couldn't say the same thing for Michael Fabiano. He is a loved tenor and I loved his performance; but in duets there was a little disconnection among them. Fabiano always looking away from Manon -to prompter or conductor, we don't know- really disturbed my perception.
Costumes.. I liked it.. Sometimes we forget how they indicate an impostant insight of the production. All men dressing the same was very accurate to indicate that all men have the same urge. Also, Manon's character development was very clear form the costumes in each act.
Last but not least.. Arthur Rucinski was a extra ordinasry Lescaut. He made his existance somehow essential. His voice and acting made Lescaut very easy to identify with. Let's see him more often in Met productions.