About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Ponnelle 1 … Zefferelli 0

New York
Metropolitan Opera House
09/26/2005 -  and 9/30/2005
Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Bryn Terfel (Falstaff), Peter Bronder (Dr Caius), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Bardolfo), Michkail Petrenko (Pistola), Maria Zifchak (Meg Page), Patrica Racette (Alice), Heidi Grant Murphy (Nanetta), Matthew Polenzani (Fenton), Roberto Frontali (Ford)
Franco Zefferelli (production)
Chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine (Direction)

Jules Massenet: Manon
Renée Flemning (Manon), Marcelo Alvarez (Chevalier des Grieux), Jean-Luc Chaignaud (Lescaut), Hao Jian Tian (Comte des Grieux), Bernard Fitch (Guillot de Morfontaine), William Schimmell (de Bretigny), Monica Yunus (Pousette), Kate Lindsay (Javotte), Sandra Piques Eddy (Rosette),
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (production)
Chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Jesus Lopes-Cobos (Direction)

Some Opera Houses or Music Festival thrive on producing either new works or renewed staging of classics. Such is not the case at the Met which has made a specialty of regularly reviving productions from the past, even if some date from as far as the 60s, on the ground that they have proved to be popular and still sell out. The Met is particularly associated in the general public’s mind with the grandiose lavish sets of numerous stagings made by Franco Zefferelli of Operas like Bohème, Tosca, Turandot, Carmen, Traviata and this current Falstaff originally shown in 1964. It would probably be unfair to judge of this current Falstaff as representative of what Zeffirelli wanted to achieve as his ideas might have been altered after so many years. What is however without any doubt is that what audience can see now is just vulgar. Settings and costumes are indeed nice to look at but there is little else. The stage is simply a mess with annoying secondary characters abounding to disturb the flow of the music and the story. Falstaff, Verdi’s last work, is a masterpiece of subtlety describing on what seems a comical settings the Autumn of a larger than life character. What we see on stage is slapstick comedy aimed solely at making us laugh of the fat guy who wants to take advantage of the two ladies. On such conditions, does it really matter that James Levine conducts his beloved Met orchestra superbly or that Bryn Terfel is indeed an amazing singer-actor in the Gobbi style. There is no way a Verdi afficionado can enjoy this.

Let us fast forwards a few days later to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1987 production of Massenet’s Manon. Yes, there are wonderful settings and costumes (the Act 2 scene of la Cours-la-Reine has clearly been influenced by Marcel Carné’s movie les Enfants du Paradis) and the stage can indeed be full on the gambling scene. However, what comes is an intelligent production whith an emphasis on stage lisibility. The chorus is often on white-grey costumes allowing to follow the principals effortlessly. There even are passages when the chorus reduces their movements to ensure appropriate focus on the singers. The comic quatuor of Guillot, Pousette, Javotte and Rosette has some wonderful choerography perfectly on time with the music. Character development is also done with great care: Manon’s youthful exuberance and yearning for Parisian life to its excess is clearly demonstrated and the sobrierty of the lovers act 2 room leaves little doubt that she wants a more flashy life thus leading to the Exuberance of the Cours-la-Reine and the gambling scene where she clearly overdoes it and begins her downfall.

Musical matters are also on the expert hands of Jesus Lopez-Cobos who conducted similar principals at the Bastille. He knows Massenet’s music inside out, brings brillance from an inspired Met Orchestra and provides careful support to his singers. Secondary singers are overall solid, well matched although Des Grieux father lacks authority. Marcelo Alvarez may not be the most ardent tenor but he has all the notes, phrases beautifully and the St-Sulpice scene is superb. How to start with Renee Fleeming’s Manon ? The role is simply hers from start to finish. She is to be at the pinnacle of her career. The voice is superb, the caracterisation done with intelligence. This is a Manon whom no one can resist with as lovely an aria of Cours-la-Reine as one can ever hear.

What these two productions show is that it is indeed possible to produce unforgettable revivales of past productions. However, the Met needs to start making tough decisions and clearly these outdated Zefferelli productions have to go.

Antoine Leboyer



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com