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SEEN AND HEARD UK  OPERA  REVIEW

Massenet, Manon: Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Conductor: Francesco Corti. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 20.6.2009 (SRT)

Manon – Anne Sopie Duprels
Des Grieux – Paul Charles Clarke
Lescaut – Benjamin Bevan
Comte des Grieux – Alan Fairs
Guillot – Harry Nicoll
De Brétigny – Adrian Powter


Orchestra of Scottish Opera
Chorus of
Manon
Francesco Corti (conductor)

Production:

Renaud Doucet (director/choreographer)
André Barbe (set/costume designer)
Guy Simard (lighting designer)


This Scottish Opera premiere marks the culmination of the company's 2008-9 season and they have pulled out all the stops to provide a lavish and highly memorable evening. It was a bold move, in the current climate and without a permanent chorus, to programme an opera that requires such big forces and many scene changes, but the gamble has paid off with a real success.

The biggest success is in the choice of the lead role, and Scottish Opera have come up trumps in their choice of Anne Sopie Duprels as Manon. Perhaps she could sound a little more girlish on her first appearance, but this is a small point compared with the sheer vocal splendour that she brings to the role. She is wide-eyed and carefree in the opening scene, with a hint of pathos coming to the surface in
Voyons, Manon; then conflicted and knowing for the second act, the aria to the table sounding particularly poignant. She is at her most assured as the pleasure-loving princess of Act 3 with splendid tone and technique for the bravura passage at the beginning of the gavotte, and then she throws caution to the winds as she reconquers Des Grieux at Saint Sulpice: with singing like this in N’est-ce plus ma main, Des Grieux never stood a chance! By the time we reach the gambling tables of Act 4 she is on the brink of losing control of the roller coaster she has embarked upon, and she maintains pathos without loss of tone for the death scene. This is as secure a portrait of Manon as I have ever heard and one which will live long in the memory.

The lesser characters sound marvellous next to her. Benjamin Bevan, who made such a great impression in
Puritani last March, sounds vigorous and reckless as Lescaut, with the ever dependable Alan Fairs looking and sounding authoritative as the Comte. Adrian Powter played De Brétigny as younger and more virile than in many interpretations, suggesting that there is more to Manon’s interest in him than merely money. In contrast Harry Nicoll’s Guillot was a semi-farcical fop, underlining why Manon could never be interested in him. The trio of “actresses” were comical but very tuneful, while the comprimario roles and chorus all fitted into the general vision very well. The only problem lay with the Des Grieux of Paul Charles Clarke. Sadly his voice has lost the ease and ping that it once had, and he sounded strained and overparted in the role. There was particular stress in the top notes, and this meant that his great arias in Acts 3 and 4 were a struggle. Equally, the tenderness of En fermant les yeux was lost, sounding effortful and tense, a real shame, considering the strength of everyone else.

The production told the story directly with one or two bizarre touches but nothing that got in the way. The costumes and sets in the big choral scenes were all garish gold, emphasizing the gaudy venality of the world in which these characters live. The crowd scenes were managed well, particularly the Cours-La-Reine scene which was buzzing with movement. We even got the ballet, with masked dancers entertaining the crowd with some courtly baroque dance. The orchestra was on superb form too, helped by the rock-steady conducting of Scottish Opera’s mucial director, Francesco Corti. He clearly knows the score inside out, turning each phrase with surety and appropriate colour, and the orchestra followed him, making for a richly satisfying account of this chameleonic score.

The last eight months have seen Scottish Opera producing its best work in years. Both vocally and visually the company seems to be riding the crest of a wave under the leadership of Alex Reedijk and the nightmares of years past seem to have been put behind them. They deserve to be well supported.

Manon
runs at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until Friday 26th June. Public booking is now open for Scottish Opera’s 2009-10 season: for full details go to https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/

Simon Thompson



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