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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Fortunately, the conductor, Richard Bonynge, has conducted this CD in the manner which it is performed at many theaters in the world. The tempos are excellent both as a symphony and as a ballet. To have handled the tempos any better for ballet (using Rubato) Bonynge would have had to have dancers (Bocca and Ferri) performing this in front of him. Short of that, this is excellent.
I highly recommend this and was very happy to finally own it,
Unfortunately, I found this rather disappointing. Leighton Lucas, who arranged and orchestrated the score, manages to select some of Massenet's most dull and unimpressive music. He utilized NOTHING from Massenet's "Manon" - which richly describes the passion and pathos of its heroine, as well as evoking the charm and elegance of the 18th century. There are no gavottes here, no minuets, nor are the pas de deuxs remotely laced with passionate, romantic music the like of which graces every moment of the opera "Manon" or even "Thais" for that matter.
Lucas seems to be enamored of Massenet's Spanish-inspired music, which seems out of place here. For example, the music depicting the inn at Amiens has a distinctive Spanish flair - hardly evocative of a lively French inn yard of the eighteenth century. Massenet's actual ballet offerings also appear to be ignored; I only spotted a few pieces from the Thais ballet music and a waltz from "The Queen of Lahore". I surmise that hard core Massenet fans may probably find more tucked away in this score, but what IS utilized is rather lackluster and dull. The final act plays like Muzak; if one does not know the story, one would be hard-pressed to realize that at this point, the characters are experiencing separation, near rape, indentured servitude and death.
This is fine to play in the background during dinner or in the kitchen while cooking, but if I want to hear rip-roaring passion, I'll get out my various recordings of Massenet's operas, suites and symphonic works and have at it.
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House plays beautifully; however, Bonynge conducts much of the music at an undanceable tempo (the opening of the scene at the Port of New Orleans is a prime example). There is virtually no rubato throughout. Bonynge never seems to breath with the phrasing. I can't see anyone dancing to many of his tempi.
I don't understand conductors who have different tempi for the concert hall and the stage. After all, the music was composed/arranged for the ballet. (I don't know whether Bonynge in particular employs different tempi, but I'd feel sorry for any company that had to dance at the tempi he's chosen.)