The Express, June 22, 2014
By: Clare Colvin
Puccini: Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House London, June 17, 2014
Puccini's Manon Lescaut
Giacomo Puccini’s early masterpiece Manon Lescaut is rarely staged, partly due to its vocal demands, and because it is far darker in tone than Massenet’s prettily romantic Manon -also based on the 1731 novel by the Abbe Prevost about a beautiful woman who rejects true love for a life of luxury.

Puccini omits the scenes of young love in a Paris garret, concentrating on Manon as gold digger when she leaves her student lover Des Grieux for the rich and considerably older Geronte.

The composer dwells lingeringly, too, on Manon’s agonising death in the Louisiana desert after being deported there on a prostitution charge.

Director Jonathan Kent sets the story in a contemporary hedonistic world. Teenagers in dayglo colours celebrate their youth in the casino of a roadside hotel.

Manon and her brother Lescaut arrive in a people-carrier along with banker Geronte de Revoir. Geronte vies for Manon’s favours, but she has spotted Des Grieux among the students and elopes with him to Paris.

Designer Paul Brown goes overboard in Act 2 where Kristine Opolais’ Manon is installed in a glass rococo boudoir with shocking pink bed.

She wears pink disco skirt, bleached blonde wig and kneesocks, reminiscent of Turnage’s Anna Nicole (to be revived this autumn).

Geronte (Maurizio Muraro) is a godfather figure who invites his elderly cronies to watch Manon perform a soft-porn show with one of the musicians (Nadezhda Karyazina).

Voyeurism is a running theme, as in the third act Manon and other prostitutes are filmed by a TV crew being loaded abroad a convict ship. Even more incongruous is the fourth act where Manon, reunited with Jonas Kaufmann’s Des Grieux, is dying of thirst high above the stage on a ruined flyover.

Despite these directorial excesses, the evening is musically a triumph. Kaufmann, undoubtedly a successor to Placido Domingo for virtuoso singing and dramatic ability, is in warm burnished voice.

He complements Kristine Opolais’ crystalline purity of tone, and the two make an eye-catching pair. No size-ist issues here.

Baritone Christopher Maltman is a sleazy Lescaut, ready to sell his sister to the highest bidder, and Maurizio Muraro a malign Geronte.

The Royal Opera orchestra under Music Director Antonio Pappano gives a magnificent account of Puccini’s score. Manon Lescaut will be relayed as part of Covent Garden’s Live Cinema Season on Tuesday 24 June and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 on July 1 at 6.45pm

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