Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House
The original novel, Manon Lescaut, written by French author, Abbe Prevost, was banned upon publication in 1731. A similar treatment to the production by Jonathan Kent would not have gone amiss.
This is not a new production, but the sight of the 2 lead artists, Manon Lescaut and des Grieux, in the last act leaning over the edge of an uncompleted motorway, ready to fall to the stage below, left the audience rather startled and was not in keeping with a 19th century New Orleans desert. It is of course the most glorious music and Puccini’s first great success as an opera composer. Its opening at the Met in 1907 had Caruso in the title role of des Grieux and indeed most of the great tenors have sung this role, including Bjorling, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti and Kaufman. Some great successes, but also some spectacular failures, such as the ROH 1984 Domingo/Te Kanawa performance.
In this performance, the des Grieux is sung by the Latvian tenor, Aleksandrs Antonenko. His might not be the prettiest of voices, but it is a voice suited to the role. It is exciting with really good range, particularly at the top and a great gear change to get there. However, even though the middle of his voice is occasionally shy, he gives his all to the performance and although not as eloquent as the production’s first des Grieux, Kaufman, it seems churlish to offer any comparison. He is also fortunate to have in Manon Lescaut the wonderful American soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, whose large clear beautiful sound rises above everybody, including the occasionally unsympathetic orchestra, under the speedy baton of Antonio Pappano. Whilst Pappano has great feel for the music, it seemed a rather ‘get to bed early’ performance, missing some of the real subtlety in the music.
Of the other singers, the Lescaut of Levente Molnar and the Geronte de Revoir of Eric Halfvarson stand out. It was good to see 3 Jette Parker young artists singing in the evening with somewhat mixed results. However, the music shines through in this opera and always ultimately wins the day.
With kind regards,
26 November 2017