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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

19 Jun 2014

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

Giacomo Puccini : Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera |House, London 17th June 2014

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

When Antonio Pappano is fired with the passion he feels for this music, few other conductors even come close. He' was phenomenal. He took risks with depth and colour, which pay off magnificently. He wasn't afraid of the way the music at times veers towards extremes of vulgarity, expressing the greed and nastiness of nearly every character in the plot. In this score, there's no room for polite timidity. Themes of freedom occur throughout this opera, which Pappano delineates with great verve. Yet there's discipline in Pappano's conducting. His firm, unsentimental mastery keeps the orchestral playing tight. Manon may lose control of her life, but Pappano keeps firm a moral compass. In the Intermezzo, this tension between escape and entrapment was particularly vivid. No need for staging. Instead, Puccini's quotation from Prévost's text was projected, austerely, onto the curtain.

Kristine Opolais created a Manon that will define her career for years to come, and become a benchmark against which future Manon will be compared. Her voice has a lucid sweetness that expresses Manon's beauty, but her technique is so solid that she can also suggest the ruthlessness so fundamental to the role. The Act Two passages she sings cover a huge range of emotions, which Opolais defines with absolute clarity. In every nuance, Opolais makes us feel what Manon might feel, so intimately that one almost feels as if we were intruding on Manon's emotional privacy. It's not "easy listening" but exceptionally poignant.

In the final scene, Puccini specifies darkness and cold, undulating terrain and a bleak horizon. There are no deserts around New Orleans, which is on a delta. Opolais lies, literally "at the end of the road", suspended in mid-air devoid of every comfort. Then Opolais sings, transforming Manon from a dying wretch in a dirty dress through the sheer beauty and dignity of her singing. "Sei tu, sei tu che piangi?", she started, building up to the haunted "Sola, perduta, abbandonata, in landa desolata. Orror!"". The glory of Opolais's singing seemed to make Manon shine from within, as if she had at last found the true light of love. I was so moved I was shaking. Anyone who couldn't be touched by this scene and by Opolais must have concrete in their arteries, instead of blood.

Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann are so ideally cast. Their presence might push up the cost of tickets, but think in terms of investment. These performances will be talked about for decades to come. Kaufmann's deliciously dark-hued timbre makes him a perfect Italianate hero. On the first night, in the First Act, some minor tightness in his voice dulled his singing somewhat, but he's absolutely worth listening to even when he's not in top form. In the love duets, his interaction with Opolais was so good one could forgive him anything. By the crucially important last scene, his voice was ringing out true and clean again - a heroic act of artistry much appreciated by those who value singing. He'll get better as the run progresses.

Manon Lescaut is very much an ensemble piece although the two principals attract most attention. Christopher Maltman sang Lescaut, Manon's corrupt brother. Lescaut is low down and dirty, a calculating chancer with no scruples who'll gladly set upon his friends if it suits him. Maltman's gutsy energy infused his singing with earthy brio, completely in character. Maurizio Muraro sang an unusually well-defined Geronte, who exudes slime and malevolent power. How that voice spits menace!

The lesser parts were also extremely well delivered. The Sergeant is a more significant role than many assume it to be. Jihoon Kim sang it with more personality than it usually gets. he makes the role feel like a Geronte who hasn't made enough money to kick people around, but would if he could. Significantly Puccini places the part in context of the female prisoners who are Manon manquées.Benjamin Hulett sang Edmondo, Nigel Cliffe the Innkeeper, Nadezhda Karyazina the Musician, Robert Burt the Dance master, Luis Gomes the lamplighter and Jeremy White the Naval Captain. Good work all round. Although attention focuses on overall staging, the director's input in defining roles should never be underestimated. Jonathan Kent's Personenregie was exceptionally accurate.

This production attracted controversy even before the performances began. However, it is in fact remarkably close to Puccini's fundamental vision. Those who hate "modern" on principle often do so without context or understanding. So what if the coach at Amiens is a car? How else do rich people travel? So what if Manon wears pink? Puccini's Manon Lescaut hasn't been seen at the Royal Opera House for 30 years, but Massenet's Manon is regularly revived. So Londoners are more familiar with Manon than with Manon Lescaut. Yet the two operas are radically different. Mix them up and you've got problems. In Massenet, Manon and Des Grieux have a love nest in a garret. But Puccini goes straight past to Geronte's mansion and to the sordid business of sex and money.All the more respect to Puccini's prescience. Anyone who is shocked by the this production needs to go to the score and read it carefully.

Geronte thinks he's an artist. Because he thinks he owns Manon - so he uses her as a canvas to act out his fantasies. Jonathan Kent isn't making this up. Read the score. One minute Manon is in her boudoir, putting on makeup, talking to her brother. Next minute, musicians pour in and the have to be shooed out. Then, "Geronte fa cenno agli amici di tirarsi in disparte e di sedersi. Durante il ballo alcuni servi girano portando cioccolata e rinfresch"i. Geronte beckons to friends to stand on the sidelines and sit. During the dance some servos are bringing chocolate and refreshments). The guests know that Manon sleeps with Geronte. They have come in order to be titillated. It's not the dancing they've come to admire. They're pervs. Geronte is showing off, letting his pals know what a catch Manon is. Hence the dancing: a physical activity that predicates on the body and the poses a body can be forced into "Tutta la vostra personcina,or s'avanzi! Cosi!... lo vi scongiuro" sings the Dancing master. But he has no illusions. "...a tempo!", he sings, pointing out quite explicitly that her talents do not include dance. "Dancing is a serious matter!" he says, in exasperation. But the audience don't care about dancing. They've come to gape at Manon. There's nothing romantic in this. Geronte is a creep who exploits women. It's an 18th century live sex show. Geronte's parading his pet animal.

So Manon concurs? So many vulnerable women get caught up in the sick game, for whatever reason. The love scene that follows, between Opolais and Kaufmann, is all the morer magical because we've seen the brutality Manon endured to win her jewels. Perhaps we also feel (at least I did) some sympathy for Manon's materialistic little soul. She knows that money buys a kind of freedom.When news of Mark Anthony Turnage's commission for Anna Nicole first emerged, some were surprised. Others said "Manon Lescaut". The story, unfortunately, is universal..At first I couldn't understand what the film crew and lighting booms meant but I think they suggest the way every society exploits women and treats them as objects for gratification. Later, the lighting booms close down like prison bars. Some of the women being transported are hard cases but others are women who've fallen into bad situations, but are equally condemned. Far from being sexist, this production addresses something universal and very present about society. I'm still not sure about the giant billboard "Naiveté" but there is no law that says we have to get every detail at once. Perhaps Kent is connecting to advertising images and popular media, which is fair enough.

People wail about "trusting the composer". But it is they who don't trust the composer. Any decent opera can inspire so much in so many. No-one owns the copyright on interpretation. But the booing mob don't permit anyone else to have an opinion and insist on forcing their own on others who might be trying to engage more deeply. It's time, I think, to call the bluff on booers. They don't actually care about opera. Like Geronte, they're into control, not art..

Anne Ozorio

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):