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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Manon Lescaut (1893)
Antonello Palombi (tenor) – Edmondo; Patrick Denniston (tenor) – Des Grieux); Paolo Montarsolo (bass) – Geronte di Ravoir; Roberto De Candia (baritone) – Lescaut; Adina Nitescu (soprano) – Manon Lescaut; Richard Mosley-Evans (bass) – The Innkeeper; Sarah Connolly (mezzo) – A Musician; Christopher Lemmings (tenor) – The Dancing Master; Kevin Sharp (bass) – A Sergeant of Archers; Michael Hart-Davis (tenor) – A Lamplighter; Richard Mosley-Evans (bass) – A Naval Captain
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
Director: Graham Vick; Designer: Richard Hudson; Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Directed for video by Humphrey Burton
rec. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, May 1997
Picture format: NTSC 4:3. Colour; Linear-PCM Stereo
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50-51442-0489-2-6 [125:00]


A main theme in Wagner’s DerRing des Nibelungen is greed, and greed is also the main reason for Manon Lescaut’s downfall, which is graphically delineated in the second act of the opera. This is also prominent in Graham Vick’s Glyndebourne production, where upper class habits are rendered in parody with exaggerated gestures; the fair Manon from Act I acts the prima donna. The stage picture is sparse, however. We see an enormous bed with a large mirror behind it, in which Humphrey Burton, the video director, sometimes lets us see the action.

Sparse also are the other acts: in the first there is only a bare stage and some chairs. People are in constant action, literally gushing. The third act takes us to the harbour at Le Havre. There we see an expressionist-slanting building which around the corner becomes the ship that the women enter for their voyage to America. The last act shows a desert, littered with stones and there is a reddish backdrop. There is a certain modernistic timelessness about the production, but this is contradicted by the costumes, which are decidedly late 18th century. The sparseness makes it easier to concentrate on the play with excellent actors throughout. The experience of the performance is vivid and heart-rending.

I imagine that the conducting of John Eliot Gardiner will divide opinions. There is a freshness and freedom about his reading that keeps the drama alive but his tempo choices can sometimes feel idiosyncratic. He often urges the action on, almost hectically; the mass scenes in the first act are very lively indeed. On the other hand the love duets and arias tend to be slower than usual, as if he wants to wring the last drop of sentimentality from the music. It all works – to a large degree thanks to the lovers’ impassioned singing and convincing acting. The Intermezzo, before the third act, is played with such intensity and such expressiveness that it becomes a drama within the drama – again a very individual reading.

This opera is teeming with minor roles and Graham Vick has added individual characters for members of the chorus in the first act, making it brim with life. The actors who create the banished women in the third act have a field day. Among the characters in the second act levé, the young Sarah Connolly makes a memorable madrigal singer. Antonello Palombi is a lively and scheming Edmondo in the first act and sings well. Roberto De Candia as Lescaut makes a believable portrait of the brother but his voice seems to be on the small side. Veteran Paolo Montarsolo, an experienced buffo since his debut in 1950, is here seen in his last appearance on stage. His voice is frayed but that matters little in this role where the expression and the identification is what counts.

The all-important roles are the young lovers, and Patrick Denniston and Adina Nitescu are just cut out for their parts. Denniston, handsome and with dashing stage presence, acts with conviction. He has a youthful voice. He sings the big numbers with glow but he doesn’t sound very Italianate. Ms Nitescu, a former Cardiff “Singer of the World” winner, is graceful and charming, a little reminiscent of Victoria de los Angeles. She has the required power for her big solos. There is a very touching moment at the end of her last act aria, when in a gesture of supplication she stretches her arms towards the onlookers; her eyes are moist with tears. Of course Manon created her own misfortune through her greed, but we still feel compassion for her.

After some initial misgivings concerning the conducting I came to like Gardiner’s unorthodox approach. The staging, acting and singing made this a worthwhile opera evening in front of the telly.

Göran Forsling 



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