Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Handel’s genius is central focus to the new staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Bostridge Sings Handel

1985 must have been a good year for founding a musical ensemble, or festival or organisation, which would have longevity.



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):