Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut and Jonas Kaufmann as Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux [Photo courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]
01 Aug 2015

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut and Jonas Kaufmann as Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux

Photos courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

What is Manon Lescaut really about? The Abbé Prévost’s 1731 narrative was a moral discourse. Unlike many modern novels, it wasn’t a potboiler but a philosophical tract in which the protagonists face moral dilemmas.

In this production, key excerpts from Prévost are shown at critical points, not just during the Intermezzo. These are important because they underline the origin of the opera, and its deepest values. The staging is black and white, lit like an interrogation room, for such is its fundamental rationale. It’s not a potboiler, not sentimental. but an uncompromising warning against the seduction by false values like wealth, glitz and short term shallowness. It says much about some audiences that they’d prefer things the other way round.

csm_FG_Manon_Lescaut_04_e695c2a8d6.pngRoland Bracht as Geronte di Ravoir and Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut

Hans Neuenfels’s production, with designs by Stefan Meyer, captures the spiritual state of flux that is so much part of Puccini’s opera. The action moves from place to place but the underlying theme is bleak. The journey starts at Amiens, a faceless place where everyone’s en route to somewhere else. One characteristic of Neuenfels’s style is the way he uses crowds. In his Lohengrin for Bayreuth (read more here), the people of Brabant were shown as rats, since rats conform, but Neunfels treated them not as vermin but with sympathy and warmth. In Manon Lescaut, the townsfolk have garish makeup suggesting Georg Grosz-like malevolence beneath their well-padded uniforms. Anonymous figures appear, zipped up in body bags. Not “belle, brune et blonde” but dehumanized creatures, being trafficked, presumably to America. Suddenly, the casual, flirtatious bantering feels dangerous.

Neunfels’s use of crowds also serves to highlight the central characters. Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann), Manon (Kristine Opolais) and Lescaut (Marcus Eiche) stand out in sharp black and white, in full focus. This is luxury casting, and so they should shine. Kaufmann and Opolais “own” these roles these days If anything, they were singing with even greater intensity than they did at the Royal Opera House production last year. Kaufmann’s portrayal was exceptionally deep, enhanced by Neuenfels’s emphasis on the moral and philosophical basis of Des Grieux’s dilemmas, which are inherently dramatic in themselves.

csm_FG_Manon_Lescaut_05_e3b3d7fd19.pngKristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut and Jonas Kaufmann as Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux

In most productions, Manon’s beauty steals the show. When Anna Netrebko pulled out of the part, many sighed with relief, since Opolais has the artistic courage not to need to be seen at her finest. When she sings, she creates a real Manon with all her insecurities and complexities. She dares depict Manon’s inner ugliness, because she can also show her true beauty. Opolais may look tense in the first act and ravaged in the last, but that’s all the more reason to admire her integrity. As she lies on the hard, bare stage that depicts the spiritual desert that is New Orleans, (where physical deserts don’t exist), with her face gaunt and the dark roots in her hair showing, Opolais’s voice transcends her surroundings. Manon is a true hero because she changes, develops and learns true meaning.

The staging of the Paris Act makes or breaks any production, since it confronts the obscenity of Manon’s situation as, frankly, a one-man prostitute. The stage shrinks, lit by a frame of light suggesting a prison without bars, with cut glass objets de luxe symbolizing hard but fragile transparency. All is delusion, the makeup, the madrigals, the dancing. Geronte (Roland Bracht) fancies himself an artist. His friends and Abbé’s aren’t fooled. They’ve come to perve at Manon’s body. In London, many in the audience were aghast that the scene was shown as live porm, but that’s exactly what it is, a rich man showing off to dirty old men like himself. It’s not meant to be pretty, as any reading of Puccini’s score makes clear.

csm_FG_Manon_Lescaut_09_45f7808aed.pngMarkus Eiche as Lescaut and Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut

Neuenfels shows Geronte kissing Manon’s naked leg. The Dancing Master is depicted as an ape, which adds even more horror. Yet Neuenfels also shows that the Dancing Master and Manon have much in common, both reduced to performing animals by the corruption of wealth. Geronte’s friends and, signifcantly, Abbés, supposedly celibate holy men, are dressed as cardinals in fuschia pink. This is not casual detail, for it connects to the brutality of a society that reveres woman as virgins, but objectifies them as sexual creatures to be abused and disposed of.

At Le Havre, Manon is seen in anonymous grey. The gloating crowd with their red wigs now seem demonic,as they are indeed, since they’ve come to enjoy seeing the degradation of women as prisoners. In contrast, the Sergeant seems more human, since he lets Des Grieux slip aboard, no doubt breaking rules. By the time we reach the all-impotant final act, all external trappings are disposed of, too. Manon and Des Grieux are alone, in almost cosmic isolation. All distractions stripped away, Kaufmann and Opolais can release emotions through the sheer power of their singing. Divested of material things they transcend the world itself.

Superlative conducting from Alain Altinoglu, too, leaner than Pappano, but more suited to this elegant, austere conception. Of the three Manon Lescauts in the last two years London, Baden Baden and Munich, this new production is by far the most incisive and intelligent. Good opera goes far beyond the first line in a synopsis. As Manon learns, life isn’t about glitzy trappings, but about human emotion.

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):