Manon, Music Center, Los Angeles

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Opera’s most appealing material girl has at last descended on the city of the angels in a vapour trail of glamour. The Russian soprano Anna Netrebko’s first try at Massenet’s enduring heroine has inspired the Los Angeles Opera’s initial mounting of the work and, in the hands of the producer Vincent Paterson, the results testify to the validity of Andy Warhol’s assertion that everyone gets his 15 minutes of fame.

This Manon relishes her starry quarter-hour in post- second world war France; transposing the opera from the 18th century has permitted Paterson, a veteran of Broadway, Michael Jackson videos and Madonna tours, to offer some pertinent comments about the attainment of celebrity and the cost to the soul. Netrebko is the most calculating of demimondaines, one whose emotions seem as changeable as her wigs. Despite her gummy French diction, Netrebko dispenses the charisma effortlessly, missing a bit of the vulnerability that contributes so significantly to the character’s mystique. The vocalism, firm and telling in the mid-range, becomes brittle and chancy when the line rises to the stratosphere, and the sensual colouring for the St Sulpice seduction scene is not yet part of this artist’s equipment. You admire Netrebko’s Manon as you might any creation of the publicity machine, but you don’t fall in love with her.

Still, the temperature rises when Netrebko and her des Grieux, Rolando Villazón, cavort semi-clad on a double bed, with the lights of Paris beckoning outside the window. After an early tendency to over- sing, the Mexican tenor’s prodigious technique and youthful flair yield vocalism both passionate and elegant. David Pittsinger contributes a model Comte des Grieux. The veteran tenor Ryland Davies offers a particularly vindictive Guillot.

In the pit, the company’s general director, Plácido Domingo, amiably supports his international cast, while indulging Massenet’s penchant for recycling a melody until it’s imprinted on the brain.

The designer Johannes Leiacker and the costumier Susan Hilferty almost drown us in period detail. When Manon arrives at church in a crimson Dior outfit, dramatic logic shrinks in the face of mindless pictorialism. Perhaps Manon is a fashion victim, after all. ★★★☆☆

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This production transfers to the Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin, in April.

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