[Met Performance] CID:167230

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, December 3, 1954

Debut : Shakeh Vartenissian, Diana Turner, Malcolm McCormick

Manon (172)
Jules Massenet | Henri Meilhac/Philippe Gille
Victoria de los Angeles

Des Grieux
Cesare Valletti

Fernando Corena

Count des Grieux
Lorenzo Alvary

Alessio De Paolis

George Cehanovsky

Shakeh Vartenissian [Debut]

Margaret Roggero

Rosalind Elias

Lawrence Davidson

James McCracken

Calvin Marsh

May Savage

Mia Slavenska

Diana Turner [Debut]

Malcolm McCormick [Debut]

Pierre Monteux

Dino Yannopoulos

Set Designer
Ellen Meyer

Zachary Solov

Manon received fifteen performances this season.
In revising the sets for Massenet's opera, Meyer utilized elements from the previous production designed by Joseph Urban as well as elements from The Rake's Progress designed by Horace Armistead.

Review 1:

Review of Ronald Eyer in the December 15, 1954 issue of Musical America

Monteux Leads Manon Revival

A stunning new production on Dec. 3, of Massenet's "Manon," which has not been heard in this theater since 1952, sustains the Metropolitan's remarkable record this season of giving outstandingly fine performances of revivals. We were treated to a "Meistersinger" that recalled almost forgotten glories; then "Andrea Chenier" came along with a mounting and a cast of show-stopping brilliance. Now "Manon," a triumph for the French genre which has never been notably strong at the Metropolitan. (I had almost said "for the French wing," but no such thing really exists here any more, and there was not a single Frenchman in the production, so far as I know, except the conductor, Pierre Monteux.)

"Manon" is all style. Without style it becomes mawkish, trivial and a weak thing upon the stage. The presence at the helm of probably the greatest living French conductor, Pierre Monteux, was assurance enough that that indispensable ingredient would be sought and found. One has not frequently heard such elegance in phrasing, such subtlety of nuance, both on the stage and in the orchestra, nor such sophistication in dramatic exposition in the Parisian manner as Mr. Monteux insisted upon in this performance. In his hands, the work attained the Gallic hauteur that it must have to escape its banal and melodramatic propensities.

But Mr. Monteux had powerful allies among his non-French confreres. First was Victoria De los Angeles, one of the great sopranos of our day, in the name part. To portray a fickle, glamor-dazzled girl at the operatically impossible age of sixteen is no small assignment, but Miss De los Angeles invested the role with that alternation between childish naiveté and calculating worldliness that makes the thing believable, the while she sang with infinite purity and fastidious vocal technique such choice morsels as the famous third-act Gavotte and the "Adieu" to the little table.

Polished Vocalist

She was seconded by Cesare Valletti, one of the most polished vocalists in the company, in the role of Des Grieux. Mr. Valletti, handsome and debonair as befits the chevalier, was as aristocratic vocally throughout the evening as he was visually and won himself high acclaim for his "Le Rêve de Manon" one of the familiar highlights of the score. Then there were Fernando Corena, the swashbuckling Lescaut; George Cehanovsky, the practical lover, De Bretigny; Alessio De Paolis, the vindictive Guillot; and Lorenzo Alvary, who ably impersonated Des Grieux, Pere, in place of Jerome Hines who was ill. All contributed their best (which was very good indeed) to a resplendent, cogent, exciting performance.

The renewed sets and costumes are sumptuous and the stage direction of Dino Yannopoulos was at once credible and tasteful. The gorgeously costumed ballet, headed by Mia Slavenska, Diana Turner and Malcolm McCormick, added color and gaiety to the Cours la Reine. There also was a debut-that of Shakeh Vartenissian, protégée of Rosa Ponselle, who took the small role of Pousette. Since she generally sang in short phrases or in ensemble, it was difficult to gain much impression of her work except that it revealed an apparently well-cultivated voice of considerable dimension and maturity. We shall look forward to hearing more from her.

Review 2:

Review of Jay S. Harrison in the Herald Tribune

Jules Massenet's "Manon" returned to the Metropolitan Opera last night after an absence of two seasons in a gracious, old-world performance all aglow with candlelight and warm Victorian elegances. For the occasion a superb cast was assembled and they did for the score precisely what the composer had in mind. "Manon" is no bulldozer, no sleek and pointed vehicle. It is a sophisticated, yet sentimental, tale of love and woe, and Massenet has draped it in velvet curtains of melody that rear up at any but the gentlest treatment.

And such a treatment was the evening's enduring pleasure. The opera's sets, recently refurbished by Ellen Meyer, give forth an atmosphere of ease and comfort, and Mr. Yannopoulos has peopled his stage with life-like figures who act as if this stage were their home, their natural habitat. As a result, the entire performance was graced by a quality of naturalness that did much to dispel the frequently hollow echoes sounded by the plot. In sum, the Met's production jells. It is consistent in its appointments, lavish in its expressive bounties and generous in spirit. No "Manon" like it exists outside of the Opera-Comique, and even there its glories by comparison might appear less bright.

The performers of the evening - every one of them-had something of a field day, for Massenet has flooded his score with supple and regal tunes that are as soulful as they are simple, as touching as they are hearty. In the leading role Miss De Los Angeles, the timbre of whose voice is characterized by her name, sang with a purity, a line and wizardry of technique that stopped the show at numerous intervals.

The portrait of Manon which she drew in tone was poignant, a mite wistful and thoroughly human. In the second act there could have been no doubt, I hazard, that when she had done with her table farewell, the audience, too, felt the alternating sorrow and regret that welled up in her voice. And elsewhere she carried to transition from girl to women, to vixen with endless poise and passion. For Miss De Los Angeles does not play Manon, she lives it and offers us an opportunity to share her every intimacy of heart.

Mr. Valletti also cut a stringing figure as Des Grieux, He is that striking rarity among singers - a fine musician and, as his "Dream" number so proudly announced, the span and roundness of his phrases lent power and virility to even the least significant measure, And though he is not by nature a barnstormer, his "Ah, fuyez" pealed like a silver trumpet through the hall. In a sense, Des Grieux is a thankless person to mould, since from the start his actions are so very predictable, But the tenor, none the less, brought a polish and vigor to the part that quite absorbed the role's deficiencies.

As Lescaut, Fernando Corena stepped out of his famed "Barber of Seville" impersonation long enough to prove that he is perfectly capable of swaggering like a Hessian and ogling maidens like a gallant young knight. In addition, he sang grandly, with effortless clarity of pitch and shining bass-baritone colors. Indeed, the entire cast made ripe and ringing sounds and added majestically to the splendor of the event. Naming one to praise above the rest does the others a disservice. Yes, they were all that good.

But here is a bit of heresy - I found Mr. Monteux' conducting a shade labored and his orchestral texture in the main sodden. The bursting champagne bubbles of the piece seemed to these ears not overly effervescent and, as a consequence, a static moment here and there asserted itself. This, however, in view of the night's achievements was a minor disturbance. "Manon" as the Met does it is all eloquence and luminosity. It beats with a true and unfaltering heart.

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