Sunday, 29 June 2014

Love among the ruins (ROH/Manon Lescaut)

Manon Lescaut (Royal Opera, ROH and cinecast)

Setting operas in versions of the present is an awkward thing to do. It calls for a certain kind of impossible realism. Yet the tackiest, tawdry aspects of the current age are used in caricature by Jonathan Kent to great effect in the present ROH Manon Lescaut. Early Puccini it may be, but pure Puccini it is indeed. Puccini uses strings in his own inimitable fashion. The first act opened in a seedy nightclub-casino-motel. The second act followed in the most revolting kind of Perspex-silver-and-pink mansion possible. Visually, you are getting about as much bang for your buck as you might hope- and it does seem to be distinctly American – even before transportation. The deco lines and casino culture have more than a whiff of Americana about them. The fourth act is set on an almost Dali-esque ruined desert highway. As is often the case, the cameras are in too close, and what is gained in intensity and passion here, is lost from the spectacle. And spectacle is always an important part of the operatic art. 

Photo: Bill Cooper/ Royal Opera House

Whilst I only saw the cinema relay, and therefore hold off detailed comment on voices, music and balance, it is apparent that Joanas Kaufmann and Kristīne Opolais are a class act. They were believable and acted well. In the interval programming, Antonio Pappano’s genius is as clear as it is from the pit. This isn’t the most popular of Puccini’s works, but it deserves more attention. By no means an unpleasant way to pass a rain Sunday afternoon.

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