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 Performances

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sydney Mancasola and Joseph Dennis [Photo courtesy of DMMO]
20 Jul 2016

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

A review by James Sohre

Above: Sydney Mancasola and Joseph Dennis

Photos courtesy of DMMO

 

Full disclosure: I have seen more first tier productions of this piece with world class stars than perhaps any other opera. Every time the opening bars strike up, memories of Sills, or Netrebko, or Kabaivanska, or Swenson, or Malfitano, or Grigolo, or Villazon, or Kraus — my God, Kraus! — rush in. I have a deliriously happy history with this piece. As I settled in to my seat at DMMO, I resolved to let them make their own case for the redoubtable, delicate gem that is Massenet’s Manon.

It has to be said that Sydney Mancasola was luminous in the title role. She sports a secure, silvery soprano of enormous flexibility, wedded to an unfaltering musicality. There is a generous dash of humanity in her portrayal and she is possessed of a charismatic presence in her well-rounded assumption of a richly complex personality. Ms. Mancasola is completely believable as the young girl, in fact she is perhaps too giggly. It is as the developing adult that she confronts some limitations of vocal heft and coloring. She is not yet able to fully convey the womanly, seasoned maturity of the later scenes. But she is young, she is extremely gifted, and she will only grow.

As her lover Des Grieux, Joseph Dennis has the right sized tenor and he sings extraordinarily beautifully, especially at mezzo forte. When he presses the top and covers the tone, Mr. Dennis muscles up just a bit although he does get wholly acceptable pointed forte notes out. His lyrical, introspective Act II aria found him at his best, offering his most meticulously controlled singing all night. This is such a daunting role, and if Joseph has not quite yet mastered all the tricky gearshifts between voix-mixte and full throttle that this part demands, he nonetheless made a substantial impression.

3X3A7511.pngSydney Mancasola and Joseph Dennis

Michael Adams as Lescaut sported a naturally warm and engaging baritone, but he too, slightly covers so that when he goes up the voice has a tendency to fall back instead of pinging forward. Mr. Adams certainly cuts a handsome figure, although he mugged pretty shamelessly in Act II, and he seemed to really enjoy playing with his cascading hair. Maybe he was a little “too” much of a dandy to be as likable as he should/could be.

The securely sung trio of women, Pousette (Ashly Neumann), Javotte (Emma Sorenson) and Rosette (Antonia Botti-Lodovico) blended well and complemented each other beautifully. Troy Cook lavished De Bretigny with an exceptionally fine, suavely produced baritone that was cultivated, unctuous and persuasive. His acting was suitably unapologetic about winning Manon by all means necessary. As Guillot de Morfontaine, Brian Frutiger’s impersonation started out a somewhat annoying caricature, but then found some chilling malicious honesty in the gambling scene. As Comte des Grieux, seasoned pro Julien Robbins contributed a richly sung portrayal, his meddling paternal phrases poised on a cushion of mellifluous bass sound.

The accomplished conductor David Neely had a somewhat flat night in the pit. The opening statements were dry and correct, instead of sparkling and anticipatory. This rather clinical beginning thwarted stylistic engagement for a couple of acts but then began to settle into a more enthused, informed, expansive French style.

There is much about Manon that starts out heady and bubbling, but ultimately it is a rather gentle tragedy as things go, certainly not Offenbach’s La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. The broad generalities of the first fourth of the evening did not set-up (as they must) the powerful set pieces and confrontations in the following acts.

3X3A8740.png(Left to right) Antonia Botti-Lodovico, Ashly Neumann, Sydney Mancasola and Emma Sorenson

Director Kristine McIntyre’s blocking was often excellent, always competent, but sometimes just too darn’ clean as when the chorus sits down almost en masse in the Cours la Reine scene. Or, too vague as in the very opening when we can’t quite assess who is who, or what is where. The wonderfully detailed business of the lovers cavorting on the bed was preceded by an odd separation of the would-be lovers as they sing about going to run away together, all the while remaining resolutely apart.

Manon and Des Grieux are directed to do mostly all of the right things and Ms. McIntyre’s business has been very well thought out and conscientiously executed. But curiously, for all of Ms. Mansacola’s and Mr. Dennis’s strengths and hard work, for all of their going through very uninhibited romantic motions, no true sparks are ever really struck, just suggested.

I am a firm admirer of set designer R. Keith Brumley’s skills, but they seemed a bit muted on this occasion. The angled rows of painted screens were professionally executed, and the rotating of the panels allowed for swift changes. But they were oddly sterile considering the sumptuousness of the period and lushness of the score.

Indeed, in the beginning, it was difficult to define the space, and to know where the referenced elements were supposed to be imagined. The addition of drape panels in Act II were airy and diaphanous when it seemed that the lovers should be trapped in a garret or down at heel apartment. Thereafter, Mr. Brumley scored with some wonderful effects, never less so than with the beautiful grill and gate for St. Sulpice which provided a very effective environment.

Barry Steele’s lighting design was another curiosity. This gifted illuminator provided an uncharacteristically blunt design, with lighting cues mostly abrupt and lacking atmospheric specificity. This was obviously a choice, but arguably not often a well-considered one. One excellent effect was having white votive lights placed on the stage’s perimeters for the Cours la Reine scene, and then having them cross fade to blood red for the passions of St. Sulpice, augment by red hanging votives.

Conversely, Roger Kirk’s lavish, character-specific costumes were just what the piece required, and were the most wholly successful design element. I wondered if Manon’s loud, sequined gold Cours la Reine gown might have been just a bit on the gaudy side, but, hey, she does dominate the scene. Never you mind, Mr. Kirk provided wholly splendid attire.

Eh bien, mes amis, at the end of la nuit, this was a commendable convocation of top talent and good intentions. Manon was a concerted and admirably conscientious effort. It just ultimately seemed to be not quite the right one.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Manon Lescaut: Sydney Mancasola; Pousette: Ashly Neumann; Javotte: Emma Sorenson; Rosette: Antonia Botti-Lodovico; Chevalier des Grieux: Joseph Dennis; Comte des Grieux: Julien Robbins; Lescaut: Michael Adams; Guillot de Morfontaine: Brian Frutiger; de Bretigny: Troy Cook; Innkeeper: Spencer Reichman; Guardsmen: Lee Steiner, Nathaniel Mattingly; Maid: Aurelie Veruni; Sacristan: Chris Carr; Sergeant: Christian Sanders; Street Performers: Deborah Giddings, Steve Giddings, Rebecca Mauritz; Conductor: David Neely; Director: Kristine McIntyre; Set Design: R. Keith Brumley; Lighting Design: Barry Steele; Costume Design: Roger Kirk; Make-up and Hair Design: Brittany Crinson for Elsen and Associates; Chorus Master: Lisa Hasson.

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):