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

A French Affair: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

A French Affair, as this programme was called, was a promising concept on paper, but despite handsomely sung contributions from the featured soloists and much energetic direction from David Bates, it never quite translated into a wholly satisfying evening’s performance.

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

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):