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

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):