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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

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):