Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Martina Serafin as Manon and Marcello Giordani as des Grieux [Photo courtesy of Festival Puccini di Torre del Lago]
30 Aug 2009

Manon Lescaut at the Festival Puccini di Torre del Lago

Each year, the tiny Tuscan village Torre del Lago hosts a festival dedicated to its favorite son, Giacomo Puccini. This year’s Puccini Festival (10 July - 30 August) featured a “new” Manon Lescaut (a co-production with Opera del Nice Theater), its premiere garnering standing ovations for Marcello Giordani and Martina Serafin and accolades for Alberto Veronesi, the artistic director of the Festival.

Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut: Martina Serafin; Lescaut: Giovanni Guagliardo; Des Grieux: Marcello Giordani; Geronte di Ravoir: Alessandro Guerzoni; Edmondo: Cristiano Olivieri; Il Maestro di ballo: Stefano Consolini; Un musico: Nadia Pirazzini; L’oste: Claudio Ottino; Un lampionaio: Stefano Consolini; Sergente degli arcieri: Veio Torcigliani; Un comandante di Marina: Claudio Ottino. Direttore: Alberto Veronesi. Regia: Paul-Emile Fourny. Scene: Poppi Ranchetti. Costumi: Giovanna Fiorentini. Light designer: Jean Paul Carradori. Orchestra e Coro del Festival Puccini.

Above: Martina Serafin as Manon and Marcello Giordani as des Grieux

All photos courtesy of Festival Puccini di Torre del Lago


What set this production apart was the inclusion of a prelude to Act II that had been part of an earlier draft of the work, along with a scene of the two lovers living happily in Paris. Aside from being too similar to Massenet’s Manon (‘adieu à la petite table’), Puccini cut the scene to move directly from the lovers’ flight from Amiens to Geronte’s mansion where Manon, having abandoned the penniless des Grieux, luxuriated as Geronte’s mistress. The fully orchestrated prelude had gone unperformed until Chailly’s 1984 recording of rarely performed works (a recording that is currently difficult to find). With this production, Maestro Veronesi performed the prelude as an integral part of the entire work.

Manon-Lescaut_TorredelLago1.gifMartina Serafin as Manon

A minuet in form, the prelude, rife with melancholy, evoked the flame of the lovers’ intense, but short-lived affair. More importantly, the prelude evidenced Puccini’s mastering of 20th century musical theater that incorporated Wagner’s rich symphonic approach and anticipated Janáček’s use of repetitive fragments (“interruption motifs”) and of his orchestration, often with programmatic origins, “capable of great sweetness [yet with] a roughness caused by the unblended layers of orchestra and by the seemingly unidiomatic writing in individual parts.” [John Tyrrell, “Janáček, Leoš [Leo Eugen],” Grove Music Online]

Guided by Maestro Veronesi, the Puccini Festival Orchestra has matured significantly over the past five years. In this production of Manon Lescaut, the orchestra traversed the difficult score masterfully, both in supporting the singers (à la Verdi) and in performing program music (such as the intermezzo between Act II and Act III) with aplomb. It was difficult, however, to appreciate all of the orchestra’s subtleties in the upper rows of the 3,500-seat open air auditorium.

Passion, even carnal passion, paradoxically devoid of erotic love and desire, inspired Verdian melodrama. Manon Lescaut, on the other hand, returned erotic expression as a central element of Italian opera. The erotic aspects of Manon Lescaut are expressed with increasing intensity by the two principals, Manon and des Grieux, from the youthful aria “Donna non vidi mai” (Act I), to the duet “Tu, tu amore tu” (Act II), to the aria “No! no!, pazzo son” (Act III), to the desperate “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” (Act IV). Marcello Giordani and Martina Serafin executed these roles with perfection. Giordani’s wide register and power filled the auditorium, recalling the finest of performances by Domingo in the mid-1980s. Serafin, mostly noted for her performances of Wagner and Strauss, added a Wagnerian touch to “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” that aligned well with Veronesi’s conducting, her performance of the role being closer to that of Renata Scotto rather than that of the more lyrical Mirella Freni. Comprimario roles — Lescaut (Giovanni Guagliardo), Edmondo (Cristian Olivieri), Geronte (Alessandro Guerzoni) — were adequate, yet overwhelmed by Giordani and Serafin.

Manon-Lescaut_TorredelLago3.gifMartina Serafin as Manon and Marcello Giordani as des Grieux

Significant weaknesses of this production arose from the contributions of Paul-Emile Fourny (director) and Poppi Ranchetti (sets). Little attention was paid to the singers’ acting . And the staging included a crowd of mimes (ostensibly naked) and dancers, the relevance of which remained unclear. The set transformed from a Renaissance ninfeo by Bramante (a 15th century architect) to a villa near Rome that deteriorated in appearance from one act to another (seemingly intended to mirror the degradation of Manon and des Grieux), all having a bewildering effect.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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):