[Met Performance] CID:171220

Manon Lescaut
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, March 14, 1956

Manon Lescaut received four performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Jay S. Harrison in the Herald Tribune

Above all else there is one thing Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" demands of its singers-belief. To make a success in the opera You must believe in its explosions of sentiment, have faith in its melodic pronouncements, dote on its throbbing tunes. Any lack of personal involvement with the score and the work is betrayed.

With the exception of Richard Tucker, last night's Metropolitan Opera cast, which returned "Manon Lescaut" to the repertory after an absence of six years, quite failed Puccini where he needed them most.

To begin with, the opera is far more difficult than the composer's "Tosca" and "Butterfly" because it is far less perfect work. As opposed, for example, to "La Boheme," which is indestructible, "Manon Lescaut" can be dealt killing blows. And a refusal to accept its passion at face value constitutes an attack at the heart of the opera from which it can never really recover. Hesitancy, timidity leaves "Manon Lescaut" tottering. On this occasion it tottered.

As Manon, Eleanor Steber was markedly out of her element. She made the proper sounds and many of the proper gestures, but her portrayal in the main was unconvincing, one-dimensional, a thing of cardboard. In the first act it seemed that she was holding back so as to make a greater effect with the second; but when that arrived without a more profound show of vitality than had preceded it, her characterization began to grow dim, loose force and focus.

Frankly, I suspect that Miss Steber is too refined a soprano to claw her way into Manon's part and give it the zest it wants. The role cries out for a genuine Italian reading, with all the best and the worst that implies. Last night, Miss Steber brought reserve to a creature for whom reserve is anathema. As a result, her rendition no sooner jelled than it froze.

Miss Stebers' faults, then, were mostly in the category of expressivity. She failed to project a living figure, thus she failed to persuade. Her singing, however, was of the same floating charm and delicacy that has this year graced her work. As a collection of well placed tones, it had color, precision and of all those attributes that have long since attached themselves to the soprano's name. Sadly, these were not enough. Her heroine was a pallid puppet.

On the other hand, Mr. Tucker was a wholly vigorous and bronze-voiced Des Grieux. When he let loose, he let loose with a vengeance and there was no questioning-on the basis of his performance-that the alternating agonies and joys of the part he was feeling at every moment. In addition, his tenor was clear as a giant bell and equally as resonant. In no other role of his, in fact, do I remember Mr. Tucker so vibrant, so virile, so full of unleashed power. For "Manon Lescaut" nothing less will do.

Frank Guarrara, as Lescaut, sang better than he has in many a long week, though he, too, seemed rather casual about turning Lescaut into more than a collection of operatic attitudes. And Fernando Corena, normally a superb dramatic craftsman, overlooked the sinister aspects of Geronte to the degree that they vanished altogether.

All in all, Dimitri Mitropoulos' conducting of the score was uneven and, despite an occasional blast of sonority, surprisingly dispassionate. Moreover, his tempi were pointedly erratic, some being faster than is necessary and others slower than is wise. His orchestra, too, frequently overwhelmed his cast members and made them seem to be mouthing rather than singing the words.?

"Manon Lescaut," in sum, did not burn with its usual fire. No wonder. It was supplied with fuel in most respects diluted.

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