Although I've been trying to lay low during this latest fray over MANON
L., but I think a couple of assertions bear closer examination. Perhaps
Aprile Millo could have handled Manon Lescaut at an early stage in her
career but I fear she's a bit past it now, barring some near-miraculous (and
much to be hoped for) vocal rejuvenation. Simply put, navigating the
intricacies of "Vedete, io son fedele" or (tougher still) "L'ora, o Tirsi"
(with its trill and top C) would tax her rather cumbrous spinto and
unreliable upper register beyond measure. Listen closely to Millo's AIDA and
LUISA MILLER (c. 1990-1) and you'll hear a "float" on the soft tones which
is clearly the product of added resonance, the underlying tone itself being
distinctly unsteady. You can't just bull your way through MANON LESCAUT
(well, you CAN, but the recorded examples are pretty gruesome) and you'd
really need someone closer to pre-diet Carol Vaness to handle the role's
amalgam of demands (cf., delicacy AND power, often in quick succession).
Viz. Callas/di Stefano or Albanese/Bjoerling, you can't go wrong on
either score, though for sheer, untrammeled passion and sometimes unnerving
emotional veracity, I've never heard anything to top Olivero & Tucker in
their Caracas performance (otherwise a pretty dicey affair), although the
Kirsten/Tucker Columbia 10-inch excerpts run them pretty close, IMO. Still,
between Callas, Albanese & Olivero that's an embarassment of riches. All
three could tackle the technical difficulties head-on, without the
considerable finessing that more recent interpreters have resorted to.
Don Levine posits Nina Rautio as a plausible alternative to Maria
Guleghina (!?!) as Manon. I'd respectfully dispute that, based on her Sony
recording, which finds her pretty much at sea, especially in Act 4. True,
having the microphone practically against her lips doesn't help, nor do the
"contributions" of Peter Dvorsky (a clumsy des Grieux) and Lorin Maazel
(dead weight on the podium). Of latter-day candidates, Miriam Gauci seems to
have the best array of skills for the part, judging from her Naxos
recording, which also has a darn good des Grieux (Kaludi Kaludov). Adriana
Maliponte was also terrific in the role, but only one or two broadcast
performances survive, alas.
Perhaps I could cite chapter & verse from my "Opera Quarterly" survey on
MANON LESCAUT, but that would be an infliction of severe cruelty and
egomania on already-put-upon Listers.
Thanks for your patience,