Puccini Manon Lescaut
Instead of the libretto’s bustling inn yard‚ the curtain rises on a bare shiny floor backed with a skypainted brick wall‚ invaded by prancing carnival figures with extravagant masks and parasols. Later acts are similarly stylised‚ to the point of camp; Manon’s starkly mirrored bedroom becomes first Le Havre‚ and then‚ shattered‚ the Louisiana wilderness‚ a ‘desert of ambition’. The dockside crowd become sneering aristos with little gold ships crowning overelaborate coiffures. But beyond such windowdressing‚ Robert Carsen’s 1991 Flemish Opera production is almost too conventional‚ evoking the passionless powderandperiwig atmosphere which Puccini decried in Massenet.
His stars do little to overcome this. Miriam Gauci’s puretoned‚ youthfulsounding soprano has graced several CD recordings‚ including a Naxos Manon Lescaut (12/92). Here‚ though‚ she seems illsuited to a role created by the ardent 29yearold Cesira Ferrari‚ not so much in the tessitura but the personality. Both voice and face are curiously inexpressive‚ conveying some girlish pleasure in Act 1 but little of the lonely disillusion of ‘Quelle trine morbide’; only in Act 4‚ in ‘Sola‚ perduta‚ abbandonata’‚ does she finally display some real intensity. Ordoñez’s tenor has the authentic Hispanic ring‚ but a somewhat strangulated top‚ his B flats sounding forced; and his acting rarely strays beyond stiffly operatic gesture. Being costumed more like a curate than a dashing Chevalier (translated ‘trooper’ in ArtHaus’s notes!) cannot help. Neither is unacceptable‚ but comparisons with Te Kanawa and Domingo on the Covent Garden video immediately reveal what they lack.
More compelling (and accidentally promoted to the lead on ArtHaus’s sleeve) is Jan Danckaert’s Lescaut‚ a smoothly sung rascal‚ but less charismatic than Sir Thomas Allen’s slimy swashbuckler for Covent Garden. Barry Ryan’s finevoiced Edmond is eclipsed by his idiotic Carnival King getup‚ and Jules Bastin’s Geronte is likewise reduced to a caricature Mr Toad.
The major asset here is Varviso’s rich account of the score‚ alive to its Wagnerian touches without overwhelming the youthful vitality and colour‚ unlike Levine in the stodgy Met version‚ and more fluent than Covent Garden’s fidgety Sinopoli. All told‚ therefore‚ not a bad performance‚ very well recorded‚ but easily eclipsed by a greater.