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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Manon Lescaut - Opera in four acts
Manon Lescaut ... Maria Guleghina
Il Cavaliere Renato Des Grieux ... José Cura
Lescaut ... Lucio Gallo
Geronte di Ravoir ... Luigi Roni
Edmondo ... Marco Berti
The Innkeeper ... Grazio Mori
The Dancing Master ... Mario Bolognesi
Choir and Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Riccardo Muti
Directed by Liliana Cavani
Recorded live at La Scala, Milan 11 June 1998

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut has fared well on DVD and this new recording compares favourably with the competition.

Straightaway let us ignore the dismal Flemish Opera production conducted by Silvio Varviso on Arthaus Musik DVD 100 224 (reviewed November 2001) save to say that like Wagner and Respighi, Puccini was very fussy about every facet of the production of his operas. If he had seen what Flemish Opera had done with his first major success he would probably have had a fit!


The 1997 Glyndebourne Festival Opera production conducted by John Eliot Gardiner (NVC Arts/Warner Music Division 0630-18647-3) did much better despite its minimalist scenery. It starred a young virile Patrick Deniston as Des Grieux, a feisty (if a little plump) Adina Nitescu as Manon while Paolo Montarsola's Geronte di Ravoir was altogether the most persuasive, a more dignified but randy old rué. The sets may have been frugal in comparison with the Flemish production (seemingly all mirrors for much of the time) but the drama and musicality of this production (directed for TV by Humphrey Burton) was far more satisfying.

The 1983 Covent Garden production [review]had a resplendent Kiri Te Kanawa as Manon and a virile Placido Domingo singing amid much more opulent sets. I reviewed highlights from this production on the Warner DVD Great Puccini Love Scenes and other opera favourites available on Warner/NVC Arts DVD Video 0630-18771-2 in December 2004. Specifically I singled out the ardent but vacillating Placido Domingo as being putty in Kiri Te Kanawa's hands in the Act 2 duet under Sinopoli's intensely romantic direction.

For newcomers to Manon Lescaut may I draw their attention to the comparative review and essay included in the January 2001 pages of this site.

So to the new DVD.

Maria Guleghina impresses strongly. To my mind she is Puccini’s ideal ‘tart with a heart for gold’. She has control and sensitivity and she acts everybody off the stage. She’s coy (but with just a hint of being street-wise) in Act I, outrageously flighty and avaricious in Act II, and, at last, contrite in Act IV. Just watch her as she taunts Geronte di Ravoir (a far too gentlemanly Luigi Roni) in Act II and the way she disports herself on the floor of the stage to seduce Des Grieux back to her charms. What a pity the wardrobe department could not have served her with more flattering costumes – and that wig! José Cura, as Des Grieux, is in fine voice, colourful and ardent – I just wish he could have been that bit more furious with Manon in his Act II entrance. But his singing with Guleghina (their voices blending so well) ravishes the ear especially in their tempestuous Act II duets and in the intensity of their Act IV duet as Manon dies in the arms of a distraught Des Grieux. Lucio Gallo convinces as Lescaut the scoundrel on the make, strutting and scheming.

The sets vary from the almost minimalist to the sumptuous. Act I is quite bare save for a tall thin colonnade allowing freedom of movement for the crowd. The La Scala Chorus are excellent and the stage directions give them every chance to be lively and animated.

Act III is dominated by the huge floor-to-ceiling hulk of the ship in the background. The set and stage directions on the Glyndebourne production allowed for a much more dramatic parade of the to-be-deported prostitutes. Act IV of course only requires a reddened evening desert sky and a stony floor. The most extravagant set is reserved for Act II. It is quite obvious that Manon is revelling in the most sumptuous luxury with silks and fine draperies, flunkies processing to spoil her with all kinds of sweetmeats, spoilt by a fawning dancing master and singing teachers.

Throughout Muti supplies a beautiful, romantic, detailed orchestral backdrop. Just a pity I cannot dispel the memory of Sinopoli’s white-hot performance of the opera’s Intermezzo on Decca 440 200-2 2CDs (1993).

Guleghina shines as an alluring, street-wise Manon. She is strongly partnered by an ardent José Cura.

Ian Lace



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