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 Performances

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.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Patricia Racette as Manon Lescaut [Photo by Scott Suchman]
05 Apr 2013

Manon Lescaut, Washington National Opera

Washington National’s 2012-2013 season continues this spring with a production of Giacomo Puccini’s first successful opera.

Manon Lescaut, Washington National Opera

A review by Paul du Quenoy

Above: Patricia Racette as Manon Lescaut [Photo by Scott Suchman]

 

Dating from 1893, Manon Lescaut is an adaptation of the Abbé Prévost’s novel about love and loss in late old regime France. Puccini had to compete with Jules Massenet’s earlier adaptation, which premiered in 1884, but the young Italian composer felt undaunted by the dramatic possibilities that suffuse the text’s rich material. Puccini’s version unfolds more episodically, a prefiguring of “scenic” operas that would become so popular among modernist composers and, indeed, lend so much to film montage in the generation that followed. Opening with the rushed scene of passionate youthful romance, Manon Lescaut skips over the deterioration of the title character’s relationship with the ardent young Chevalier des Grieux in their Parisian poverty and takes us directly to Manon’s submersion in a life of luxury provided by the old roué Geronte. Massenet’s more narrative version takes her attempt to return to her poor but ardent lover into a complicated downward spiral; in Puccini she is merely arrested on what used to be called morals charges while wasting too much time gathering up her jewels. Massenet kills her off before she boards the ship that will take her into exile. Puccini allows des Grieux an impassioned plea to join her and she dies in the New World, in the “desert” outside New Orleans that makes for one of opera’s more exaggerated indulgences.

Both versions of the Manon story have the power to move their audiences to heights of melodramatic frenzy. Washington’s production is a reliable “can-do” approach. This revival of John Pascoe’s production dates to 2004, when the company performed temporarily in D.A.R. Constitution Hall while the Kennedy Center’s opera house was under renovation. The effort is quite literally a storybook one, with traditional sets and costumes narrating the drama within a stage frame created by giant torn pages from Prévost’s book. Traditional approaches to Puccini classics are well and good, but this one seemed peculiarly dark, especially in Act I, when the blossoming romance could easily have been brighter. The only hint of stylization comes in Act IV, when the Louisiana “desert” is suggested by broken statuary and artifacts of Manon’s lost life of luxury. It raises the uncomfortable question of whether Manon’s lament is for the love she could have had with des Grieux - unambiguously suggested by Puccini’s ravishing score - or by the trauma of having sacrificed her life of luxury for mere love.

Washington built its cast around the nationally well known soprano Patricia Racette. A competent singer, Racette has made a tour of most great Puccini heroine roles but is only taking on Manon Lescaut for the first time in this production. While no one can fault her professionalism, her performance came off as perhaps a bit too professional. The notes were delivered, the actions were taken. But she brought little fire or passion to this expansive role. And at times the voice did have to scoop to bring off ascents into what were not always attractive high notes. Bulgarian tenor Kamen Chanev’s des Grieux has a robust sound and featured some ringing high notes. But it lacked the elegance that real Italianate singing needs to be savored. Chanev, who makes his Washington National debut in this production, left the impression that his technique has room to grow; real star power may be elusive. A more impressive company debut came from the sturdy Italian baritone Giorgio Caoduro in the suave role of Manon’s brother, Lescaut. Jake Gardner, a third debutant, made the old Geronte an entertainingly real rascal. Company music director Philippe Auguin led a fine orchestral performance, one of the better ones in recent years. The chorus delivered fine music as well.

Paul du Quenoy


Click here for cast and production information.

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):