Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

<em>Manon Lescaut</em> at Covent Garden
24 Nov 2016

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sondra Radvanovksy (Manon)

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

A crumbling freeway flyover juts jaggedly into a black nothingness. As Manon collapses into her desert surrounding, so the terrain itself sinks into abyss.

Puccini’s third opera was premiered in Turin on 1st February 1893 - just over a week before the first performance of Verdi’s Falstaff in Milan - and the work’s blending of obvious debts to Italian Ottocento lyric traditions and an engagement with Wagner’s innovative harmonic language ensured that it was an unqualified success, with contemporary critics declaring Puccini the foremost composer on the Italian scene.

However, to present-day audiences, Puccini’s opera can seem less an evolutionary development of the past, and more a strikingly modern statement. And, despite the undeniable beauty of the score, after its initial triumph the opera’s subsequent critical reception has at times been characterised by disquiet: a sense that there is something insalubrious and ‘not quite nice’ about the opera. Kent and his designer Paul Brown wholly embrace the dark side of Puccini, and drag his nineteenth-century good-time-girl-gone-bad into the modern world.

Their dystopian twilight zone is, however, somewhat at odds with the sensuous eroticism of Puccini’s score. Admittedly, when mired in the bleakness of Act 4, it is difficult to find a redemptive note in Manon’s demise - a death which she fights to the last: ‘No! non voglio morir …’ But, it is passion and not pointlessness which lies at the heart of this opera, and it is this essential ‘soul’ which Kent neglects. There is a gratuitous quality about Manon’s suffering; it signifies nothing but itself.

Fortunately, conductor Antonio Pappano is in the pit to restore the opera’s impassioned pulse and pump emotional life-blood through its veins. On the first night of the run, his crafting of the musico-dramatic ebbs, flows and lurches was masterly and utterly convincing. Pappano has an innate feeling for the long lines which expand so effortlessly. The constant shifts of mood seem entirely natural. The Prelude opened with a searing and slashing slash of the violins’ knife but before we knew it the mood had lightened and we were swept along by the rich busyness of the opening scene. The intermezzo between Acts 2 and 3 presented a stunning array of emotional colours and musical ambiences: there was a tremendously sense of spontaneity and directness, as Pappano plunged the depths of the drama. The ROH Orchestra held nothing back, but the playing was never anything but elegant. Indeed, one of the most striking features of the performance was that while the ostentatious romantic climaxes were relished there were moments of great delicacy too. The series of chords that open the final Act were an unnerving shudder of death; mid-way through this Act, the theme which represents the protagonists’ love - and which had blazed so triumphantly at the end of Act 3 - was heard again, a shimmering reprise, a symbol of a hope now faded and elusive.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0029_  ROYAL OPERA CHORUS c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgROH Chorus, Act 1. Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Kent and Brown are more mundane, the brutality of their realism quashing any lingering romance. The square and inn of Amiens, the setting for Act 1, are jettisoned for a flashy apartment block and a gambling casino. Thus, a light-hearted evening gathering in the village - denim-clad teenagers whizz around atop wheelie bins and adolescents bounce about exuberantly led by Luis Gomes’ ebullient, open-hearted and warm-voiced Edmondo - is set against an iniquitous den of baize gaming tables and one-armed bandits, intermittently lit with a lavish glare by lighting designer Mark Henderson.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0098_ LUIS GOMES AS EDMONDO c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgLuis Gomez as Edmondo. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Manon arrives in a silver SUV, a picture of innocence in her floral frock. But, it’s but a short step from urban ingénue to Geronte’s peacock in a ‘golden cage’. And, in Act 2 Manon finds herself in an opulent but lurid boudoir of cerise and purple, in which time stands still and Manon herself is frozen as one of Geronte’s riches.

There is nothing intimate about this ‘private’ space which is the setting for Act 2; it’s a peep-show booth in which Manon preens her hair, applies her elaborate make-up, is pleasured by the lesbian Singer - a role ably sung by Emily Edmonds - and gyrates and squirms for the delectation of a posse of geriatric, masked voyeurs, who, with their backs to us, enjoy a soft-porn display during the Act 2 pastorale which a cameraman records on a hand-held camera - presumably for YouTube dissemination.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0155_ LEVENTE MOLNAR AS LESCAUT, SONDRA RADVANOVSKY AS MANON LESCAUT c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgLevente Molnar as Lescaut, Sondra Radavanokvsy as Manon Lescaut. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Kent’s trope, though, is not irrelevant. From her first entrance in Act 1, Manon is presented through the gaze of others, principally Des Grieux. When Lescaut’s cries to the Innkeeper catch his attention, he raises his eyes and sees Manon: the libretto tells us that ‘facendo un gesto di meraviglia, la osserva estatico’ (making a gesture of amazement, he looks at her ecstatically), and with a cry, ‘Dio! Quanto è bella’ (God! How beautiful she is), he hides from view in order to espy her. His gaze guides us; we first see Manon through the filter of Des Grieux’s rapture and wonder. Our gaze is bound with his and that of the other characters on stage, including the assembled line of dirty old men. In Kent’s reading, our ‘heroine’ is aware that all eyes are on her, and is complicit in the performance of her personae.

Yet, whether the director manages to turn Manon from a passive object of desire into an active subject who can manipulate her own identity within a prescribed system is another matter. Urging her to escape, Des Grieux cries ‘Bring only your heart’ as Manon stuffs Geronte’s jewels into a pillow case; her tardiness is her downfall - seemingly captivated by the room’s treasures she succumbs to its claustrophobic clutch and is arrested.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0297_ SHIPLEY AS SERGEANT, CRAWLEY AS NAVAL CAPTAIN ANTONENKO AS CHEVALIER DES GRIEUX c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgDavid Shipley as Sergeant, Nicholas Crawley as Naval Captain, Aleksandrs Antonenko as Des Grieux. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

In Act 3 the dock-side square at Le Havre, through which the humiliated prisoners process on their way to deportation to the US, becomes in Kent’s hands the studio of a TV reality-show, compered not by a police sergeant but by a tuxedoed MC. The girls are taken to an Amsterdam-style red-light district where sex slaves are trafficked abroad by pimps.

And, though there are, during the proceedings, some front curtain projections of text from the 1731 novella by Abbé Prévost on which the opera is based, Puccini’s Act 4 crucially rejects the context provided by Prévost's narrative, and excludes the months of contentment spent by Manon and Des Grieux in New Orleans. So, Kent plunges us into misery - and pushes Des Grieux and Manon through a gaudy advertising hoarding onto a highway of broken dreams.

In the title role, Sondra Radvanovsky does not always appear a natural fit for Kent’s soft-porn star protagonist but her warm soprano wins our sympathy, and she crafts many a winning lyrical line, counter to the staging’s coldness. Radvanovsky acts and moves well. Her vibrato was quite wide and in the first two Acts she exhibited a tendency to slide onto notes - and struggled to hold onto the note when she’d got there - but she succeeded in conveying both the warmth and vulnerability of Puccini’s creation. Manon’s Act 4 peroration, ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’ - in which Puccini thrusts Manon into our prying gaze (in contrast to Prévost’s discretion) - was a touching rebellion against death and against the society which seeks to punish her. In Manon's last vocal moments, Radvanovsky found incredible, if waning, sweetness, ensuring that we understood the dreadful regrets of the dying woman. Radvanovsky crafted the arching cries, the fragmented contours, and the truncated repetitions, with acute theatrical insight and technical skill - she moved, indeed leapt, effortlessly, from the top to the bottom of her range.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0890_ ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CHEVALIER DES GRIEUX, SONDRA RADVANOVSKY AS MANON LESCAUT c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgAleksandrs Antonenko as Des Grieux and Sondra Radanovsky as Manon Lescaut. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko was vocally assured as Des Grieux; he fired his big guns with lyric aplomb - ‘Donna non vidi mai’ was impressively expansive - and if some of the risks he took at the top end did not come off, then at least he was impassioned in his essays, and his Act 4 emoting was superb. Antonenko is not equally assured across his range, but this helped to convey an impression that his Des Grieux combined vocal strength with vulnerability.

cBC20161118_ MANON_LESCAUT_0090_ ERIC HALFVARSON AS GERONTE DE REVOIR c ROH. PHOTO BY BILL COOPER.jpgEric Halfvarson as Geronte de Revoir. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Eric Halvarson was a cunning Geronte de Revoir, not afraid to make an ugly sound if it served the drama. His elderly roué had strong dramatic presence, and the text was cleanly delivered. Levente Molnár was persuasive as Manon’s charming but unprincipled brother, Lescaut.

I left the theatre feeling that if Tosca was Puccini’s ‘shabby little shocker’, then Manon Lescaut was his depiction of shockingly cruel injustice.

Claire Seymour

Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut - Sondra Radvanovsky, Chevalier des Grieux - Aleksandrs Antonenko, Lescaut - Levente Molnár, Geronte de Revoir - Eric Halfvarson, Edmondo - Luis Gomes, Musician - Emily Edmonds, Dancing Master - Aled Hall, Singer - Emily Edmonds, Lamplighter - David Junghoon Kim, Sergeant - David Shipley, Naval Captain - Nicholas Crawley, Innkeeper - Thomas Barnard; Director - Jonathan Kent, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Designer - Paul Brown, Lighting designer - Mark Henderson, Movement director - Denni Sayers, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Tuesday 22nd November 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):