Gloucestershire Echo, June 25, 2014
By Colin Davison
Puccini: Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House London, June 24, 2014
Manon Lescaut, RoH Live, Vue Cinema Stroud and other locations
Rating: *****
Saints or more often sinners, creatures to be adored, won, bought and abandoned. You have to admit Puccini had a thing about women.

There are elements of all those powerful characters to come – Mimi, Butterfly, Turandot, Angelica – in this, his first hit. There’s even a fallen woman called Violetta forced into exile with Manon.

Modern though many of his later operas may be in their social attitudes, most are so rooted in a particular historical setting, that they are always played in period. Not so this story of the woman who wants everything.

Director Jonathan Kent and designer Paul Brown put the piece in a very contemporary setting, the designs moving from an apartment block through increasingly symbolic, “emotional landscapes” to Manon’s death in America on a shattered freeway bridge.

Some, as senior director Kasper Holten admitted, would have hated that. Was that why there were no on-screen tweets?

I remember a dreadful Glyndebourne touring hand-jiving production of The Magic Flute that director Peter Sellars set under a motorway fly-over, but this time the idea worked – the shallowness, the broken dream that associated wealth with happiness.

It’s easy to forget how shocking these operas were in their time – and to overlook how Manon and Violetta earned their living.

Not here. When Maurizio Muraro’s voyeuristic Geronte shows off his mistress to friends, it’s in a soft-porn movie.

Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais captured the early naivety of the heroine and her swift descent through passion and avarice to degradation.

Her silky voice in “In quelle trine morbide” seemed perfectly to match her situation. And she would have deserved part of that ovation just for the nerve of taking her curtain call still dressed as a tart.

Jonas Kaufmann, reliable as a German defensive back four, complemented her ideally as De Grieux in the love duets. Intelligent, fluent, surely he is the most watchable tenor around.

A benefit for cinema audiences were the enthusiastic short presentations by the charmingly slightly old-fashioned Antonio Pappano. “Wondrous,” bubbled the conductor over a favourite passage. Wondrous indeed.

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