Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Natalie Dessay as Manon [Photo by Dan Rest]
21 Oct 2008

Manon at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A funny thing happened on the way to the convent. Manon Lescaut, a pretty little girl with a taste for pretty things, became sidetracked by a pretty young man.

Jules Massenet: Manon

Manon: Natalie Dessay; Des Grieux: Jonas Kaufmann; Lescaut: Christopher Feigum; Guillot de Morfontaine: David Cangelosi; De Bretigny: Jake Gardner; Comte: Raymond Aceto. Lyric Opera of Chicago. Production by David McVicar. Conducted by Emmanuel Villaume.

Above: Natalie Dessay as Manon [Photo by Dan Rest]

 

In Prevost’s novel and in opera after opera (at least five of them) she comes to a bad end after many colorful adventures. Parents can safely bring their daughters, sure of a moral message; the daughters (and sons) will enjoy Manon’s taste for enjoyment, as gaudily illustrated by Massenet. It took two hundred years for someone to think up a way to end the tale happily: in Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the Broadway show and Hollywood movie based upon it, the dizzy heroine gets the louche career, the diamonds she needs, the boy she loves and Paris. Moral: Arkansas rears ’em sturdier than Artois.

Manon_Chicago_03.pngManon (Natalie Dessay) and Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann) have fallen in love. Act I, Manon. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago

Massenet’s Manon is irresistible to any diva possessing charm, decent acting skills, some coloratura technique and a trim figure – zaftig Carmens we can endure, and charmless Isoldes, and plump Mimis and Marguerites were already a cliché by 1910, but Manon has got to seem adorably frail, likely to float away on the breeze if she is not weighed down by sin and her Act III gown (any diva’s gaudiest). Natalie Dessay, an actress, a charmer, a Frenchwoman, and a slender slip of a thing was born to play it, and triumph with it.

I must put in a good word about the wigmaster’s work – though I don’t know which of the three sponsoring companies’ wigmaster is to be commended – in designing a long fall for the hoydenish Manon we first meet in the inn at Amiens, an upswept coif for the elegant courtesan of Act III, and then leaving her with close-cropped curlicues (to prevent prison lice) for her pathetic death scene – visual cues for us, to which Dessay plays with a detailed, complex impersonation of a clumsy adolescent (not unlike her Fille du Regiment), a leman in love, a lady of fashion and a pathetic, dying castaway. Similarly, she sang like a lost girl in Act II, torn between her love, genuine if skin-deep, for Des Grieux and her yearnings for the great world and its treasures, the laughter she deliciously mimicked in her coloratura in the Cours-la-reine, the doom she ultimately faced with something like a Parisian shrug. This is a superbly detailed, perfectly thought out, ideally interpreted performance, one to be held as a standard for any other Manon.

Jonas Kaufmann sings far too rarely in the States – his matinee-idol looks, slim figure, ardent acting and caressing tenor are mainly familiar from DVDs made in his home base, the Zurich opera, where he is renowned for such weighty roles as Don José and Parsifal. In Chicago, he may have been suffering from a cold (he had cancelled an appearance at a pre-season star gala), but in any case I had the feeling he was not filling the admittedly huge house until the demented outbursts of the last two scenes. His singing was beautiful and seductive, but sometimes drowned by Emmanuel Villaume’s orchestra – which never threatened Madame Dessay.

Christopher Feigum, whom I last saw as Lescaut in Puccini’s opera, hardly had to change a thing but language to play the role in Massenet’s. His sturdy, likable baritone and bullying attitude always entertained. David Cangelosi neatly struck the difficult balance (missed on the DVD from Barcelona) between the ridiculous and the nasty in Guillot de Morfontaine: this is one of the most intricate of comprimario roles, its layers insinuating themselves into every aspect of the story (Guillot is wealth, old age, ugliness, vanity, and a sore loser into the bargain), and Cangelosi made the most of them. The other small roles were trimly done, giving the proper impression of a cruel, frivolous world that loves Manon when she’s in clover and discards her without a tear when she’s used up. The three actresses she admires in the opening scene clearly have their priorities on straight: Manon may not have a deep heart, but she has one; they don’t even pretend to.

It’s not a pretty story, let’s face it – it’s a tawdry, “way of the world” story – and in McVicar’s staging, the pretty costumes do not disguise the ugliness. (Or the lack of costumes in the Hotel de Transylvanie, a casino where an awfully large number of the guests, especially well-built young men, seem to have lost their shirts.) McVicar’s unit set represents a decrepit bull ring, or perhaps an operating theater – I don’t quite get the significance of this, or of having his heartless chorus looking on at every scene, as if Manon’s story amuses but bores them, a too-familiar sit-com. McVicar has far too many people on stage, spying on all the most intimate scenes except the very last – I’m not sure what is gained by having so many people observing the intimacy of Act II, though there may be a clue in its end, when Manon, uncertain what she really wants (as usual), has allowed her lover to be kidnapped without warning him. As she gazes about in despair, half a dozen ladies with fans approach her, applauding her “performance.” (Beverly Sills, my first Manon, would throw herself tragically on her bed – and Bretigny, her rich new lover, would enter and dangle a sparkling necklace in the air to stop her crying – as indeed it did.)

I had the advantage (or disadvantage) of having seen this production of Manon, on the DVD from Barcelona, which also stars Madame Dessay. The Chicago performance was undoubtedly better – small roles (such as Guillot and the Comte des Grieux) were far better cast in Chicago, chorus and ballet were just as elegantly absurd, I prefer to rest my eyes on Mr. Kaufmann than the equally able Rolando Villazon, and several of the most vulgar touches in the DVD were ameliorated by Chicago second thoughts (or third thoughts – the production originated at ENO). The orgy at the Hotel de Transylvanie gets out of hand on the DVD – or maybe the cameramen were overexcited by it – and onstage defecation, a Barcelona opera signature, does not feature in Chicago.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):