Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.



Eva-Maria Westbroek as Manon Lescaut, Thomas Oliemans as Lescaut, and Stefano La Colla as Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux [Photo by Bernd Uhlig]
12 Oct 2016

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at Dutch National Opera

Above: Eva-Maria Westbroek as Manon Lescaut, Thomas Oliemans as Lescaut, and Stefano La Colla as Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux

Photos by Bernd Uhlig


On opening night there was really only one redeeming factor­ — Stefano La Colla’s Des Grieux. He is that rare vocal species, a spinto tenor with a beautiful, ardent timbre and the required heft for Manon’s tormented lover. La Colla rode all the role’s vocal crests without forcing. Theatrically, however, director Andrea Breth left him flailing until the last act. At the start of Act I, Manon and Des Grieux are already prostrate in the “bare and undulating” American landscape where she expires of exhaustion. The lovers keep rising from the sand to enact Manon’s life from the moment she and Des Grieux meet and fall in love in Amiens, against a sterile-white set. Disastrously for Des Grieux’s character, they move slowly, as if in a dream. Instead of a lover crazed by the irresistible but capricious Manon, he comes across as a morose semi-cadaver. La Colla’s connection with Eva-Maria Westbroek’s temptress was painfully awkward; he might as well have been making love to a dressmaker’s dummy. The playfully cynical “Tra voi, belle”, which Des Grieux sings before he sets eyes on Manon, was staged as an angry, misogynistic rant — a criminal waste of La Colla’s blazing, Italianate sound.  That he can actually act became evident in the final act, when Manon stops dreaming while dying, and actually starts dying. Called upon to act naturalistically, his singing also gained in intensity, but by then it was too late.

manonlescaut_80.pngEva-Maria Westbroek as Manon Lescaut, Alain Coulombe as Geronte di Ravoir, and Koor van De Nationale Opera

Being superlative actors, both Eva-Maria Westbroek and Thomas Oliemans as her foppish, parasitic brother, Lescaut, periodically broke through the flashback fog to breathe life into their characters. Unfortunately, although his musicianship was at his usual high level, Oliemans just does not have a baritone of Puccinian dimensions. His voice lacked enough impact at key moments. Westbroek looked exquisite in her 18th century finery. When not moving as if through molasses, she captured Manon’s many facets, most lucidly her boredom and frustration as Geronte’s mistress. The caressing looks she gave the jewels he had bought her made her inability to part with them, followed by her arrest and deportation as a thief, completely logical. Vocally, however, Westbroek was not at her best. Her generous vibrato had a mind of its own and her unique, platinum timbre sounded steely. Moments such as the rueful “In quelle trine morbide” and Manon’s gavotte required more tonal tenderness. Westbroek brought her great skills as a tragedienne to the finale, although in “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” volume triumphed over pathos, not least because of Alexander Joel’s enthusiastic but unsubtle conducting.

Joel led the Netherlands Philharmonic and the well-prepared DNO chorus in a variable performance that was at times pleasingly ebullient, often too loud, and marred in places with unsure entrances and tempo tugging. The high point of the performance was Manon’s frothy levee and dancing lesson, the low point the Act II Intermezzo, with sawtoothed sforzandi and the tragic depth of a bowl of spilled milk. Uncertainty about tempo could explain why Alessandro Scotto di Luzio made an equivocal impression as the lovers’ ally Edmondo, in spite of his lovely lyric tenor and strong stage presence. In the supporting roles, only booming bass Guillaume Antoine as the Innkeeper and the Sergeant offered worthy support. Alan Coulombe’s Geronte was gruff without being intimidating. Eva Kroon’s Madrigal Singer and her chorus made a striking flock of nuns with outstretched wimples, but sounded thick and out-of-sync.

manonlescaut_017.pngEva-Maria Westbroek as Manon Lescaut and Thomas Oliemans as Lescaut

The nuns, like most other characters, were garbed in the sartorial hyperbole of Federico Fellini’s 1976 film Casanova. Moidele Bickel, who passed away while working on the designs, and Eva Dessecker, encrusted the cast in spendour. They even reproduced specific costumes from the film, such as the gold-and-silver insectoid outfit for the Dancing Master, in which Peter Hoare performed some embarrassingly silly moves. It was not clear how Breth’s tribute to Fellini served the opera, except as a superficial aesthetic glaze. Puccini’s sundry street characters in Act I were transformed into an immobile masked chorus in black. They suggested the clergy, Des Grieux’s designated destiny before fatal attraction intervenes, and also carrion crow waiting to feed on Manon’s corpse. Four acts later, the production had not explored these themes any further. Dance doubles casting Manon as a victim of male violence and other distractions were just more signposts to nowhere. In the meantime, the supposedly entangled lovers circled each other as if they feared contracting the plague. By the time they fell into each other’s arms on the sand dunes, nobody really cared whether they survived or were devoured by scavengers.

Jenny Camilleri

Cast and production information:

Manon Lescaut: Eva-Maria Westbroek; The Chevalier Des Grieux: Stefano La Colla; Lescaut: Thomas Oliemans; Geronte di Ravoir: Alain Coulombe; Edmondo/A Lamplighter: Alessandro Scotto di Luzio; The Innkeeper/Sergeant of the Royal Archers: Guillaume Antoine; The Dancing Master: Peter Hoare; A Captain in the Navy: Lukas Jakobski; A Singer: Eva Kroon. Dutch National Opera Chorus, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Alexander Joel; Director: Andrea Breth; Set Designer: Martin Zehetgruber; Costume Designer: Moidele Bickel † & Eva Dessecker; Make-up: Cécile Kretschmar; Lighting Designer: Alexander Koppelmann. Seen at Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam, on Monday, 10th October 2016.

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):