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
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
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