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Manon Lescaut

VALENCIA
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia
12/12/14

Although Spain’s economic crisis has hit Valencia with a vengeance, its brave opera house is jumping back to its feet, with a little help from its friends. The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia has still has a powerful and famous friend in Plácido Domingo, who has has supported the theater from the start. Domingo has sung in Valencia every single season and has established his bold Center of Operatic Development for young singers inside the building.  This season, Domingo stepped up to offer his services both as a singer and a conductor during the months of December and January. 

For the season première on December 9, Domingo held the baton for Stephen Medcalf’s production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, originally seen at the Teatro Regio di Parma. Beginning on December 15, and continuing through the last two weeks of December and the first two in January, Domingo has combined this conductor’s job with his famed interpretation of Vidal Hernando, the baritone role in the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, a favorite vehicle of his parents, zarzuela singers Pepita Embil and Plácido Domingo, Sr.  Conducting and singing on consecutive nights is nothing new to Domingo, but in Valencia, his double act is more important than at any other theater — here, the two Domingo operas account for the first quarter of the company’s season.  

Domingo’s take on this sumptuous Puccini score was carefully paced and elegant (seen Dec. 12, the second performance of the run).  Although the occasionally covered the singers (especially the soprano), Domingo always remained in control, and the balance improved throughout the evening.  Domingo made good use of the fabulous orchestral body in his charge. 

Rising Uruguayan soprano María José Siri sang the title role with fine dramatic passion and a smallish yet agreeable and technically impressive voice. At her side, Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Dávila had the opposite collection of virtues: his voice was rather rough yet it stood out through its power and squillo, reaching healthy levels in the high notes. 

The baritone Germán Olvera, a student at Domingo’s finishing opera school, showed considerable promise and maturity, as well as a beautiful legato in the heavy role of Lescaut.  Veteran Wagnerian bass Stephen Milling produced the best performance of the evening with a masterful, oily impersonation of Geronte de Ravoir. His booming voice delivered the exact combination of ridiculous and dangerous to make the cuckolded old lover a key character in the piece. 

Medcalf’s idea of the opera sounded just right: Manon’s story cannot be understood unless presented at a time between the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The heroine’s choices and her tragic destiny make no sense in the modern and post-modern worlds. So the simple, serviceable props, fine costumes by Jaime Vartan and the subtle light effects by Simon Colder created an Ancien règime mindset with creative symbolic touches, such as the game of mirrors for the rich Manon in Act II and the menacing ship that took on the condemned women in Act III. 

Manon Lescaut had been announced for last season, but falling tiles from the theater’s façade forced the theatre to delay the production. spacer 

ROBERTO HERRSCHER

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