Ricardo Muti has his detractors and I'm sure a few will step forth and turn thumbs down on this splendid effort. But only a few will – this is surely one of the finest opera recordings of the year. Everything works well here: Muti imparts an atmosphere of drama with a fine sense for tempos and orchestral balances, and he coaxes some excellent performances from his singers. While no one in the cast delivers a definitive one (does anyone ever?), all are still superb.
Maria Guleghina turns in a Manon with range, capturing both the delicate side of the singing role and the more gripping and grim moments, especially in the last act. She has a powerful voice when she wants to project it, but she can also deliver some of the sweetest soft singing you'll hear. José Cura is both vocally and dramatically convincing, although some may prefer a more vibrant, youthful sound. Luigi Roni and Lucio Gallo are likewise effective in their roles.
The sound DG provides is excellent, despite its live-performance origins (recorded June 1998, at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan). In fact, there is very little audience noise, nor is there much sonic distraction from the action on the stage. This is a fine recording then, owing mainly to Muti's superb sense for drama and for Puccini's music. There are some other excellent recordings, though in the digital era I'm not sure this one can be bettered. The Levine/Pavarotti/Freni effort on London is certainly worthwhile, and among the older recordings there are the di Stefano-led EMI with the nearly incomparable Callas and the Björling/Albanese effort on RCA.
This new DG issue can stand with the best, and it features full libretto (Italian/English) and intelligent notes.
Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings