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David McVicar’s production of Manon at Dallas Opera
© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello as Manon and Des Grieux
© Almond/Dallas Opera
ON MARCH 4, Massenet’s Manon received a near perfect realization from Dallas Opera, in David McVicar’s inventive hothouse of a production, staged here by E. Loren Meeker. Sets and costumes were by Tanya McCallin, and the splendid lighting by Kevin Sleep, from the original designs of Paule Constable.
The chief splendor of the evening came from the singers. Baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer turned Manon’s cousin, Lescaut, into a complex dramatic figure, a louche gambler and seducer who appeared to be making moves on his cousin when he meets her at the Inn in Act I. Crossley-Mercer proved his ability to combine the delicacy of a voice that has done wonders on the recital stage with a resonant power that projects through the opera hall. Lescaut’s “O, Rosalinde,” at the Cours-la-Reine, was a wistful, exuberant song that has little dramatic place in the opera’s action but added immeasurably to its color.
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello were nothing short of astonishing as Manon and her Chevalier. Pérez took a little while to warm up. Her “Je suis encore tout étourdie” sounded muffled at the start, especially in its middle range, and she was a bit overwhelmed by the orchestra. Soon, with “Voyons, Manon,” the heroine began to pull herself together in a melancholy self-realization that Pérez handled with delicacy. In the Act II “Adieu, notre petite table,” the soprano spun line after line slowly and with rich poignancy; she ended the aria curled upon the table, as if refusing to leave it. And with dazzling vocal coloratura and a commanding dramatic presence she lit up the stage with the piquant “Je marche sur tous les chemins.” Her voice blossomed like the very flowers she was describing. Carefree and languid at the same time, this Manon became more than the sum of her contradictions. “N’est-ce plus ma main?” at Saint Sulpice set of a seduction worthy of Dalila.
Stephen Costello moved from strength to vocal strength as Des Grieux. From his initial appearance, when Des Grieux is an awkward, bumbling bookworm, through his head-over-heels falling in love, to the golden high notes of his radiant “Nous vivrons à Paris” at the end of the Act I, Costello was in very good form. In Act III’s “Ah! fuyez, douce image” at Saint Sulpice, Costello’s clarion tenor (perhaps more Italianate than genuinely French) rang with the tenderness of young love and the strength of heroic resolve. The lovers’ duets in Acts I and III and the closing scene were marvels of pacing and harmonizing.
The evening was marked by the return of Graeme Jenkins, the Dallas Opera’s laureate conductor, who led the ensemble with an excellent sympathy for the exuberant, often febrile, wit, passion, and pathos of Massenet’s score. The admirable performers in the comprimario roles—among them Troy Cook as De Brétigny and William Ferguson as Morfontaine, and David Pittsinger as the superfluous Comte des Grieux—combined vocal dexterity and sonority with lively stage presences. The saucy Pousette, Javotte, and Rosette were Katherine Whyte, Kathryn Leemhuis, and Audrey Babcock. —Willard Spiegelman