Manon Lescaut – Opera in four Acts to a libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo, Marco Praga, Giuseppe Giacosa, Domenico Oliva, Luigi Illica, Giulio Ricordi and the composer after the Abbé Prévost’s novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut [sung in Italian with English Met Titles by J. D. McClatchy]
Manon Lescaut – Kristine Opolais
Chevalier des Grieux – Marcelo Álvarez
Lescaut – Christopher Maltman
Geronte – Brindley Sherratt
Edmondo – Zach Borichevsky
Hotel Manager– Philip Cokorinos
Musician – Avery Amereau
Dancing Master – Scott Scully
Sergeant – David Crawford
Street Sweeper – Tony Stevenson
Sea Captain – Richard Bernstein
Madrigal Singers – Maria D’Amato, Christina Thomson Anderson, Stephanie Chigas & Rosalie Sullivan
Martin Harvey – Dancer
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Sir Richard Eyre – Production
Paula Williams – Revival Stage Director
Rob Howell – Set Designer
Fotini Dimou – Costume Designer
Peter Mumford – Lighting Designer
Sara Erde – Choreographer
Reviewed by: Christopher Browner
Reviewed: 21 November, 2016
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York City
Although Giacomo Puccini had previously composed two operas it was only with the 1893 premiere of Manon Lescaut that the composer burst to prominence and indicating how his characteristic style would develop.
The orchestra, here that of the Metropolitan Opera on colorful form conducted with vibrancy by Marco Armiliato, plays a major role in telling the story. Each moment is imbued with passion and life, bringing great immediacy to this tale of fervent young love.
Kristine Opolais has become the favored interpreter of Puccini’s soprano roles at the Met. Opolais brings a sultry and lyrical timbre to Manon, but her vocal performance was inconsistent. Her middle voice was often round and creamy, but she sometimes struggled to be heard over the richly textured orchestration. Though some of her upper range showed signs of thinning, when it counted she capped arias with secure and expansive top notes. The title role requires an actress who can balance natural sensuality with youthful innocence, but Opolais’s portrayal put far too much emphasis on the former.
Marcelo Álvarez’s singing has become increasingly labored as he works to punch out high notes. Still, the tenor brought a bright and Italianate timbre to his rendition of the young romantic Des Grieux, even if his choppy phrasing contrasted with Puccini’s lyricism, and he relied heavily on histrionic gesture that sometimes reduced his Des Grieux into a caricature.
As Manon’s brother, Christopher Maltman sang with a robust and forceful tone, but he also managed to coax some sweet sound – especially in his brief arioso in Act Two. Brindley Sherratt brought a gruff bass as the scheming nobleman Geronte, and Zach Borichevsky, reprising the role in which he made his Met debut, delivered unflagging charisma and a refined tenor as the student Edmondo.
Richard Eyre’s updated staging of Manon Lescaut re-sets it to France during the German occupation of World War Two. With a drab but evocative set by Rob Howell and fetching costumes by Fotini Dimou, the production presents many beautiful images but they are more a string of attractive poses than an organic narrative. At times, the director’s concept does not entirely graft onto the source material, but Puccini’s masterful music radiated inviting warmth.