OPERA NEWS - Manon Lescaut
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Manon Lescaut

Netherlands Opera

In Review Netherlands Manon Lescaut hdl 217
Westbroek as Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Dutch National Opera
© Bernd Uhlig

INTERNATIONAL STAR Eva-Maria Westbroek returned to the Dutch stage in October, after an absence of several seasons, with a new production of Manon Lescaut at Dutch National Opera. The Dutch soprano, whose previous successes with the company include Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (2006) and La Fanciulla del West (2009), was hailed as if she were a long-lost daughter returning home. Westbroek’s idiomatic interpretation of Manon, combined with a sparkling reading of the score by British maestro Alexander Joel, made this Manon Lescaut—the first Amsterdam staging of Puccini’s opera in more than thirty years—an exceptionally rewarding experience. Westbroek’s voice may now be somewhat heavy for a young, playful girl, and she occasionally lacked the fragile sound that the score requires, but the Puccini style fits this soprano, who was a pupil of the great verismo diva Iris Adami Corradetti, like a glove. At the last performance of the run, on October 31, conductor Joel showed similar affinity for Puccini’s music, and his leadership of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra made the big moments of this rich score sound as exciting as one could wish.

More musical joy came from two Italian tenors in the cast. Stefano La Colla, a winner of the Puccini competition in Torre del Lago, sang des Grieux with youthful Italianate timbre and clear diction, sounding convincing in the lyric moments of Act I as well as in the demanding finale of Act III. The singing of Alessandro Scotto di Luzio was a real treat: this promising young tenor’s elegant voice and flair for acting were effectively deployed in two roles—the student Edmondo in Act I and the Lamplighter in Act III. The versatile Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans contributed a Lescaut who was a real man of the world and a lively character whose feelings for his sister seemed more than a little incestuous. The Géronte of French–Canadian bass Alain Coulombe was slightly stiff, vocally and dramatically.

The production by German theater director Andrea Breth was problematic. Breth’s concept showed the first three acts of Manon Lescaut as the hallucinatory vision of the dying Manon in Act IV; Act I started with Manon and des Grieux lying onstage just as we were to see them at the end of the opera. Instead of the dancing and the laughter of the students in Act I, Breth presented the chorus as a group of black-clothed mourners, placed at the back of the stage in a tableau vivant. Apparently, Breth does not like staging a chorus: in Act III, when the crowd is supposed to assemble in the harbor of Le Havre, most of the chorus was banned to the orchestra pit, with a couple of almost motionless figures taking its place onstage.

The first half of Act II, meant to depict the cultural and social atmosphere of eighteenth-century Paris, was turned into a sort of cabaret that was completely anachronistic in a production that otherwise maintained the story’s eighteenth-century setting, designed by Martin Zehetgruber, and costumes, designed by Moidele Bickel and Eva Dessecker. Some of Breth’s other ideas and visual gags were just as questionable: one kept wondering whether Breth had any relationship with Puccini’s music or was deliberately ignoring it.  —Paul Korenhof

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