This film presentation by Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas of the Teatro Regio Torino’s production of Manon Lescaut was captured live on 14 March 2017. In four acts, the screening runs close to three hours, which includes two short intervals of 10 minutes and several interviews. It is sung in Italian with English subtitles.
As a film of a live stage production, there is always potential for embellishment as well as distraction. This film had both which were the result of well-executed and clumsy close-ups, and poor sound engineering. Act 3 has one of the longest death scenes you will find in opera, set to glorious music, but to zoom-in close on the expired heroine only to see her eye-lids twitching and her chest heaving did somewhat spoil the moment. The close-ups also revealed the ‘maturity’ of the bodies and faces of the two romantic leads who are meant to be in the flush of youth rather than decades older!
But hey, it’s opera, and it’s the music and the singing that we are really there for! Isn’t it? The sound levels for some of the interviews were also very loud and the audience visibly ‘recoiled’ in surprise!
Manon Lescaut was composed by Puccini in the early 1890s and is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost. Several years earlier, Massenet composed his opera, Manon, based on the same novel. The opera had no less than five librettists, and Puccini himself and his publisher also picked up the quill, which likely explains some of its disjointedness. The music however is gold-plated Puccini, and the symphonic intermezzo leading into Act 3 is an absolute joy, as is the rest of the score, but especially throughout Acts 3 and 4.
Gianandrea Noseda was uber-vigorous at the conductor’s podium, beating almost every note at times and generating beads of sweat on his brow in the process (more of those unforgiving close-ups!), but he extracted every musical nuance that was required in the tender moments and the orchestra was never overpowering.
The story is essentially a moral one: if one seeks life’s pleasures and trifles with duty and the feelings and cares of others in the process, it will all end badly, and this is precisely what happens to the heroine, Manon Lescaut. She allows herself to succumb to the attentions of Des Grieux but then is seduced by the riches and privilege that Geronte offers her but only to return to the arms of Des Grieux. Geronte has her imprisoned for being a wanton woman and she is subsequently banished to the New World where she and Des Grieux perish alone in appalling circumstances. The libretto really doesn’t make a lot of this clear and, in that sense, much of the business of the opera is lost, but …. it’s about the music and the singing!
Manon Lescaut was sung by Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri. She sounded the part, but lacked the naïve sensuality the role demanded. American tenor Gregory Kunde sang Des Grieux, but he too lacked the love/lust-blindness that was needed. His vocals were however, exemplary. The cast was rounded out by Carlo Lepore as Geronte and Dalibor Jenis as Manon’s brother, Lescaut. The chorus was well-disciplined but the number of women playing men was distracting.
Thierry Flamand’s sets were traditional and serviceable, as was Andrea Anfossi’s lighting. Overall direction by Vittorio Borrelli was competent, but not inspiring.
I just wanted the two young lovers to be ….well, young! It would have worked so much better.
Reviewed by Kym Clayton
Rating out of 10: 6
This was the second and final screening of Manon Lescaut, part of the Palace Opera & Ballet cinema season, presenting the Royal Opera House, La Scala and Opéra National de Paris – exclusive to the Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas.