Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Director: Mariusz Trelinski
Conductor: Lothar Koenigs
Reviewer: Marina Spark
Plymouth’s Theatre Royal is playing host to the Welsh National Opera’s Fallen Women season, of which Manon Lescaut is their second in the bill of three operas. The plot surrounds the incomprehensibly desirable Manon; a beautiful, provocative, fascinating woman, played by Chiara Taigi. The hero of the opera is Des Grieux, played by Gwyn Hughes Jones, who instantly falls under Manon’s powers of attractions and loves her at first sight. The couple enjoy a short period of happiness before Manon’s brother steals her away and forces her into a life of prostitution with Geronte di Ravoir. What ensues is a tale of corruption and exploitation. However, Manon’s fall from grace is not out of her control. She actively seeks out attention from men and her judgement is clouded by a deep sense of narcissism.
Taigi plays Manon with a grounded sexuality. With a powerful stage presence and a mesmerising voice she commands the action with passion and mystique. She displays a range of emotions from tenderness in her love duets with Des Grieux to egotistical self adoration in her scenes set in Geronte’s house. One aspect of Manon that Taigi could maximise is the genuine vulnerability that Manon shows at the end of the opera. As it stands Manon is played with petulant demands for pity, still showing the selfish attributes that have as yet made her a fearless character. A little more genuine remorse and guilt would make this character more human.
Gwyn Hughes Jones plays Des Grieux with a certain powerlessness that translates well for the character, who is essentially under Manon’s spell. This is not to say that his performance is not powerful. He commands the stage and invokes a deep sense of empathy from the audience. His incredible voice suits Puccini perfectly, his soft tones working well for the character’s personality and vulnerability.
The rest of the cast support the action well, their timing, vocally and choreographically, are spot on.
The design aspects of the production, made by designer Boris Kudlicka, are a mixed bag of successes and slight misses. The cold, sparse, desolate train station platform works incredibly well to establish that the opera is set in an emotionally barren land, marking out the love between Manon and Des Grieux well. A hanging window depicting inside/outside scenes serves only to get in the way and block light from the performers’ faces. Most scene changes are carried out with little fuss, however, a particularly long one, which takes place during a silent moment in the music and a blackout stunts the energy momentarily.
The choices made for the direction at the sleazy Geronte’s house are at odds with the script and opera in general. Some of the action, clearly made to communicate that Geronte’s business is seedy and exploitative, is gratuitous and unnecessary.
On the whole, Manon Lescaut, is a hard hitting, interesting take on a classic tale of a fallen woman. For all its questionable choices it is worth seeing if you like to be challenged whist being entertained.
Photo by Johan Persson | Runs until 28th March 2014