They’re for real and they’re spectacular! Having created a sensation when they appeared in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” two seasons ago, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon are together in Massenet’s “Manon” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Appearing with the Los Angeles Opera, the golden pair were eagerly awaited and did not disappoint. Not only do they have a magical sexual magnetism, they sing and act with glorious élan. This is a hot, hot ticket and a hot, hot performance.
Netrebko has a luscious soprano and glides effortlessly through the lovely Massenet arias. Villazon must be regarded as a leading tenor of the day with his powerful, resilient tenor voice and excellent musicianship.
Netrebko, as Manon, arrives on the scene as a starry eyed-teenager, using a pencil to draw seams on her stockingless legs. She dazzles the crowd at the train station and it is easy to understand why. With a long black braid and a red beret, she looks stunning. Villazon, as Chevalier des Grieux, is immediately taken with her. Although “love at first sight” is difficult to pull off, the scene is perfectly believable in the hands of this handsome couple.
He is all boyishness in the nicest way. She is coy and seductive. Their singing together is a rapturous delight. And this is true throughout the three-hour production. As they progress from two light-headed youngsters to sophisticated socialites, they never fail to act and sing in character.
Because this is Los Angeles, it seems that a “Hollywood” director is a desirable thing and everything must be glitzy. In this case, the responsibility lies with Vincent Paterson who has credits as a director and choreographer for Madonna and Michael Jackson. Fortunately, the singers divert us from much of his self-indulgent aberrations. Camera lights are moved about by three priests and three soldiers, ostensibly to give the feeling of a movie being filmed. No way! Netrebko is done up to look like Hollywood stars, including Monroe. No way. (She looks better as a brunette.) Her stint as a pole dancer is not only ridiculous but vulgar.
Although the action is supposed to take place back in the 1800s, the clothes and the sets have been updated to 1950. This works well in terms of the costumes, especially the colorful A-line dresses created for the women. However, the sets, as eye candy, present a problem. A huge backdrop stolen from “Les Miz” is used in the ballroom scene. As a priest, Villazon looks uncomfortable singing behind the iron bars of the abbey. The corny final backdrop, right out of a Western, allows De Grieux to carry Manon off into the sunset.
Despite these annoyances, which are minor, this is a “Manon” to see-and listen to.
The ubiquitous (and wonderful) Placido Domingo was in the pit showing off his keen musicianship as the conductor of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.
There are other fine singers in the large cast. Hyung Yun has a pleasant baritone voice and performed well as Manon’s cousin, Lescaut. Even more impressive was David Pittsinger as Comte des Grieux. Ryland Davies, Dale Travis, and Michelle Fournier excelled in their smaller roles.
Johannes Leiacker was the scenery designer and Susan Hilferty was responsible for the sparkling costumes. Especially beautiful were the dresses worn by Netrebko.
Additional performances take place on October 18 and 21 at 7:30 and October 15 at 2 p.m. This is a tour de force by the two stars and should not be missed.