“Pérez is magnificent as the ill-fated Manon—vocally and dramatically. The character is usually portrayed as too beautiful for her own good and a victim of her desires. She abandons true but penniless love for the life of luxury offered as a courtesan, then back to her distraught student when she was bored and finally leading both of them to ruin by her insatiable desire for riches.
Pérez, on the other hand, is a woman who knows her own power. Her actions, while sometimes incorrect, are always motivated by trying to make the best of the situations in which she finds herself. She sincerely loves the heartbroken Des Grieux, the young student who rescued her from a life in a convent, but Pérez’s Manon is deeply conflicted about what to do when she learns that his father is going to intervene. Unless she accepts the very generous offer from the wealthy nobleman, she would be a 16-year-old woman alone in the world. Unlike others in the role, Pérez shows us her despair at such a choice. Through it all, her deep love for Des Grieux never falters—and we know it.
When Manon learns that Des Grieux is about to take his vows of priesthood, most Manons seek him out and seduce him to run off with her and live a life on the edge. Pérez plays it differently. She realizes that if he takes his vow, she will never be able to repair the damage she did to him and rebuild the life she sacrificed. While the end result is the same, her so-called seduction is something else: a desperate attempt to remind him of the joys they once shared.
Their final ruin is, indeed, her fault for suggesting a life of gambling to support themselves, but Pérez makes it clear that this is an act of desperation in the face of bankruptcy rather than her desire for finery. Their final meeting, a short visit her brother arranged with a corrupt prison guard, is almost too devastatingly sad to watch. There is little left of Pérez’s Manon, only her overwhelming regret. She musters the energy needed to express this to the distraught Des Grieux and expires in his arms.
Vocally, she is amazing. She has a glorious voice, moving to spinto territory, with secure high notes and remarkable flexibility. She is equally impressive at full volume or when floating a super soft sound. But she is doing more than just singing. Every note is part of a phrase that communicates the words and the emotions behind them. It reminds of the stage presence of someone like Maria Callas . . .
This production is a Manon to remember, and makes the case for more productions of other Massenet jewels.”
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs – TheaterJones