Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Jonathan Miller’s “Così” strikes gold again

When did “concept” become a dirty word? In the world of opera, the rot set in innocently, gradually.

Tucson Desert Song Festival Presents Artists from the Met and Arizona Opera

The Tucson Desert Song Festival consists of three weekends of vocal music in orchestral, chamber, choral, and solo formats along with related lectures and master classes.

The Schumanns at home: Temple Song 2018

Following their marriage, on 12th September 1840, Robert and Clara Schumann made their home in a first-floor apartment on the piano nobile of a classical-style residence now known as the Schumann House, on Inselstraße, just a short walk from the centre of Leipzig.

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Announces 2018 Jette Parker Young Artists

The Royal Opera House has announced the five singers who will join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in September, selected from more than 440 applicants from 59 countries.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

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):