Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



Michelle Johnson as Manon [Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia]
26 Apr 2012

Manon Lescaut, Philadelphia

It is Manon month in the Mid-Atlantic states. In New York, the Met is presenting Massanet’s take, while Opera Company of Philadelphia has just opened Puccini’s version: his first successful opera, Manon Lescaut.

Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Michelle Johnson as Manon

Photos by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia


The latter is a tribute to the company management, which programmed a work not heard in Philadelphia for decades in lieu of yet another Bohème, Tosca or Butterfly, and then overcame adversity to craft an enjoyable evening.

Opera Philadelphia often benefits from the remarkable number of fine singers trained in local conservatories—but rarely as much as in this production. When the scheduled soprano (Ermonela Jaho) cancelled less than a month ago, Texas-born Michelle Johnston, a 29-year old in her final year at AVA, stepped in, learned the role from scratch, and sang it with distinction. A grand finalist in last year’s Met national auditions, Johnston is a well-schooled singer with the most of the resources to tackle the singular challenge of Manon, whose evolution from youthful innocence through giddy greed to death in disgrace is mirrored by a vocal transformation from lyric to coloratura to spinto soprano. She was most impressive in slimming down her voice for the Act II minuet scene, complete with a (quasi-) trill. Given her youth and the rushed conditions of her premiere, it is perhaps inevitable that, earlier and later, Johnston sometimes seemed a bit cautious. Later in the run, she will perhaps cut loose more at the big emotional moments, such as the aria, “Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata.” Overall, however, this was a smart and sensitive performance by a young singer to watch.

Thiago Arancam is a 32-year old Brazilian lirico spinto tenor who started singing late and has been trained largely in Milan. He is a sexy guy on stage, with a voice both pleasant and intriguing, mostly due to its unusually dark color—a quality often thought to signal grand heroic potential. For the moment, he sings smoothly and in tune, if uniformly at forte. Yet the sound in the middle and lower parts of the voice lacks the mixture of warm timbre and clear ring Italian tenors prize, and sometimes fades out suddenly—a quality that suggests the tone is being forced. Even at best, the result, some robust high notes aside, his agreeable approach skims over subtleties in the character of the Chevalier des Grieux: his flirtatious serenade, sweet reflection on falling in love, and the gut-wrenching "No! No!, Pazzo son" all sounded vaguely similar. Perhaps Arancam—scheduled to sing this role in Dresden under Christian Thielemann in a year—will yet realize greater potential.

Manon_Lescaut_Phil_02.gifThiago Arancam as Des Grieux and Michelle Johnson as Manon Lescaut

Two character baritones supported the cast well. Daniel Mobbs continued his strong work for Philadelphia, seeming to inhabit to the character of Manon’s rich seducer and patron Geronte de Ravoir. Troy Cook was strong if a bit uneven as her brother. Cody Austin sang brightly as the student Edmondo, John Viscardi pranced menacingly as the Dancing Master, and John David Miles’s robust tones came out of nowhere as the Sergeant.

The production was vintage Philadelphia: realistic, colorful, and cost-effective without probing even the (relatively shallow) depths of Manon Lescaut’s libretto-by-committee. Still, it offered one interesting idea, namely a (mechanically-challenged) drop with projected paraphrases from of the literary text from which the story originates.

Music director Corrado Rovaris was largely in his element in this fast-moving score, with the orchestra responding brilliantly—better than I have ever hesrd them—in moments such as the police raid at the end of Act II. To be sure, one might have liked to hear Rovaris encourage the young cast to linger at other critical moments, but rubato is not his thing.

Manon_Lescaut_Phil_03.gifScene from Manon Lescaut

Given the success of this production, perhaps Philadelphia will now dare to extend its successful string of operas by 20th-century master Hans Werner Henze to include his unjustly neglected adaptation of the Manon tale, Boulevard Solitude.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):