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Music Pages

Massenet’s Manon at the Royal Opera House, London

16 January 2014, London, UK

Riveting: Ermonela Jaho as Manon
Riveting: Ermonela Jaho as Manon(Photo: Bill Cooper)

Review by Francis Muzzu

Ingénue, coquette, Grande Horizontale – whichever stage of Manon’s life Ermonela Jaho depicts, whether vertical or indeed horizontal, she conveys the vivacity and allure of Massenet’s great creation. Her soprano is at times too cloudy to be the ideal French instrument, and her diction is decidedly occluded, but she spins an elegant line, shades her tone exquisitely and certainly doesn’t shirk any high alternatives.
When Jaho first runs onto the stage she really does look fifteen years old, and in this revival of Laurent Pelly’s belle époque production she charts her social ascent from Gigi to Nana (and corresponding fall) with a riveting performance. Matthew Polenzani’s Des Grieux is not as dramatic, but Jaho seems to inspire him, and of his plangent tenor there is no doubt – this is a fine instrument used with taste, and his voice blends beautifully with hers.

Pelly’s production is a mixture of the observant and the crass, but provides a simple and sometimes soignée showcase for its singers: the costumes threaten to upstage their wearers at times.  The supporting cast is good, though often linguistically impenetrable. Emmanuel Villaume’s conducting is passionate at the expense of delicacy, and some soupy textures deny the score its finesse.

Manon runs at Covent Garden until 4 February.

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