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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Des Grieux Buries Manon
07 Feb 2010

Manon Lescaut in Lyon

If you want Italian opera go to Italy and hope for the best — like conductor Daniel Oren’s Manon Lescaut two years ago in Genoa.

Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Svetla Vassileva: Manon; Misha Didyk: Des Grieux; Lionel Lhote: Lescaut; Alexander Teliga: Géronte; Benjamin Bernheim: Edmondo; Stuart Patterson: Dance master; Franziska Rabl: A singer. Orchestre et Chœurs de l'Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Kazushi Ono. Metteur en scène: Lluis Pasqual. Sets: Paco Azorín. Costumes: Franca Squarciapino. Lighting: Pascal Mérat. Choreography: Montse Colomé.

 

May this caveat lay to rest all complaint that the new Manon Lescaut just now unveiled in Lyon had little to do with anything that resembles Italian verismo and melodramma.

If the Genovese Manon Lescaut belonged to the conductor, the Lyonaise edition went to the director, Lluís Pascal — though its conductor, Kazushi Ono, did make brilliant music. And this Manon Lescaut disproved the notion that Puccini’s first masterpiece is a fragile one. If it could survive Mr. Pascal’s treatment it can survive nearly anything.

The production is brilliant. Spanish theater director Pascal lavished a theatrical gloss over Puccini’s four brutal episodes in the rather brief but quite eventful life of the Abbé Prevost’s eighteenth century heroine, Manon. It was witty theater, the bold emotional strokes of verismo replaced by heady concepts — the mind was stunned with striking images.

Each of Puccini’s acts is a decisive action — deceit and flight, boredom and theft, deportation, and lastly death in the deserts of Louisiana. For metteur en scène Pascal it was all theater. Act one was evoked by a circus ringmaster. This was des Grieux’ friend Edmondo sporting the signature white tie and tails. Act two was a quotation. Manon starred in a sumptuous made-for-TV pastoral complete with the dowdily dressed Andrews Sisters crooning off-camera (radio is not visual). Act three was easier. It was a public parade of hissing prostitutes. Act four was the end of the line, Manon and des Grieux blasted by the light of an a vista (in view) large theater spotlight hammering home that all this could only happen in theater since we now know that there is too much water in Louisiana anyway.

Like in theater Mr. Pascal’s setting was functional rather than descriptive. Trains and tracks brought actors on and off the stage, save in the salon act where a motorized cart carried the camera. The desert act was the end of the line — train tracks terminated at a lone buffer stop, or bumper (the familiar shock absorbing structure you see at the end of tracks in train stations). This small structure on a bare stage served valiantly to absort the throes the dying Manon in her over-the-top sola, abbandonata, io, la deserta donna when in fact des Grieux had merely gone off to find some water (the desert horizon sky split discretely to let him leave the stage). Otherwise the splendid, svelt Manon, Bulgarian Svetla Vassileva sang the entire act flat on her back on the floor, resplendently.

To put it lightly tenor Misha Didyk gave it his all to the point that in the third act it seemed he was giving too much, and we feared that the several months between this performance and his promised Hermann in Lyon’s Pique Dame (April) would not leave enough time for him to regain his vocal composure. To put it mildly the several physical scenes with Mme. Vassileva seemed like they might possibly be quite real. Mr. Didyk is the same handsome, blond Russian who played des Grieux to Karita Mattila’s Manon in San Francisco.

How you might ask did the Puccini score fit into all this. Conductor Kazushi Ono enriched and enlivened the orchestration by emphasizing its coloristic details, reveling in them and then catching up with Puccini’s punch by effecting dizzying accelerandi for the final moments of each act.

Maybe Lluís Pascal got it right. Opera is a circus.

Flip back to Genoa a couple of years ago. The show was all in the pit. While conductor Daniel Oren is hardly Puccini, he can embody Puccini’s music pure and simple. On the podium he may at first be immobile, but he soon stomps and jumps, emitting grunts and snorts. He sings along (in good baritone) in the big numbers while expansively pulling his orchestra together to emote in one huge voice along with his inspired collaborators on the stage. He then appreciatively applauds his singers right along with the applause of a thrilled audience. Mo. Oren is a phenomenon.

These artists keep us coming back for more.

N.B. The Lyon matinee audience (January 24) did not indulge itself or the performers by applauding the arias.

Michael Milenski

Click here for a video clip from this production.

Click here for a photo gallery of this production.

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):