Manon, Metropolitan Opera House, New York

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It was one of those evenings when the artists transcend the material. A staple of American Ballet Theatre via Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 original for the Royal Ballet, Manon is a crowd pleaser even if its messy Massenet score (which uses none of the composer’s opera music) and its book (based on the Abbé Prévost novel) is inadequate for a three-act ballet. In this last performance in the role and her penultimate appearance before retiring from ABT after 22 years, Alessandra Ferri, with her breathtaking dancing and impassioned acting, made it a memorable and exciting evening.

It was exciting also for the ABT debut of guest artist Roberto Bolle from La Scala, who, as Des Grieux, galvanised the audience from the moment he appeared. A perfect foil for Ferri, tall, dark and handsome, his technical virtues, purity of line and legato control took him triumphantly through the first long opening solo, an adagio that emphasised his muscular strength, his splendidly soft landing jumps and overall technical command. From there on Act 1 builds into a passionate pas de deux, where he and Ferri created a oneness of technical synchronisation and emotional rapport that only great partnerships can. There is something particularly manly not only in Bolle’s dancing but also in an ardent physicality that makes him entirely believable in the role of poor Des Grieux, blinded by love for the wanton Manon.

But it was Ferri’s night. At 44 her dancing has lost little of its lustre. Her gorgeously curved insteps still provide the final grace note to her high-flung arabesques and extensions; her supple back bends, particularly in the scene where she is handed in high and swooping lifts over the heads of the patrons of a gambling brothel, are particularly striking. After years of dancing Manon (first with the Royal Ballet), her interpretation has reached its mature zenith.

Herman Cornejo brought Lescaut, Manon’s rakish brother, vividly to life, dancing with his customary gasp-inducing virtuosity. Gillian Murphy, precisely brilliant as usual, was a piquant charmer as Lescaut’s mistress. If a bit too tall for Cornejo, it only added to the bawdy humour of their Act 2 drunken pas de deux. Craig Salstein, also a high-flyer, made a jolly beggar chief and Sascha Radetsky a grim reaper of a Jailer. If Ferri must go, she goes out in a blaze of glory. Tel +1 212 362 6000

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