Manon, by Jules Massenet, at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.

If a theme can be said to mark the first part of the Metropolitan Opera’s present season, it must be that of the diva in top form. Denyce Graves’s opening-night Carmen got matters off to a good start, yet her well-received performance was to be followed by even more highly praised turns: Deborah Voigt’s commanding Ariadne, Jane Eaglen’s magnetic Turandot, Cecilia Bartoli’s winning Cenerentola, and Renée Fleming’s coy, cool, and cruel Manon. Of these, Fleming’s outing was particularly interesting, for Jules Massenet’s Manon features a female lead of startling complexity. It is a role that requires a soprano to coax both sympathy and loathing from an audience, and it has never been an easy part to sing.

Though Auber and Puccini also wrote operas based on the Abbé Prévost’s...

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