Thursday 28 May 2009

Catch up - Manon at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow

We've been away on holiday, hence the pause in posting. On Saturday we caught Massenet's Manon given by Scottish Opera at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Reading the reviews was interesting as it was obvious that one or two reviewers rather wished that Massenet's Manon wasn't Massenet's Manon but something grittier. It might, I suppose, be possible to give a gritty version of Manon but Renaud Doucet and Andre Barbe didn't try to. One of their rationales was that Scottish Opera had never, ever performed the work so that they had a duty to give it relatively straight, something which doesn't always apply when you let producers loose on a work.

Most of the money seems to have gone on the costumes, lots (and lots) of elegant 18th century ones. The production used a large chorus and the big scenes, particularly the opening, seemed to indicate a slight lack of rehearsal time, the chorus were sometimes faulty in ensemble and the opening scene did not quite register as well as it could. For the set, we had a selection of props but the main 'set' was a group of huge, fragment-shaped mirrors. The rationale behind these was all to do with reflection on society etc. But in effect they mirrored the costumes and gave us a glittering stage image without having to resort to expensive sets or tawdry pseudo-glittering ones. The lighting was superb and changed from moment to moment. It was amazing how the lighting designer managed to change the entire mood from scene to scene. The Saint Sulpice scene was particularly notable for the eerie quality of its light.

Anne Sophie Duprels does not quite have the girlishly fragile tones needed for the opening scene, but then again her repertoire does stretch from Massenet to Janacek (by way of Dvorak's Rusalka). Instead, in the first scene she created the perfect picture of the young naive. This developed as the opera went on and Manon's development was mirrored in Duprels deportment and body language. By the end she managed to imbue the final scene with a moving power which is not really in the music.

As her lover, Des Grieux, Paul Charles Clarke displayed the sort of narrow focused heroic tones which have effectively disappeared from this repertoire, but which were routinely used by French tenors in the pre-war period. His is not a perfectly elegant singer and there were moments, when his voice was under pressure, when his voice seemed to be trying to escape. But he did not simply belt the role out in an open Italianate way, it sounded as if he was singing a French opera. For that we must be grateful. During the opening scene, I thought that the relationship between Manon and Des Grieux rather lacked a sexual charge, but this developed and you firmly believe in their relationship by the final act.

Manon's cousin Lescaut was played more as an amiable buffoon than a venal gambler by Benjamin Bevan. Bevan sang the role beautifully, but I did rather want something nastier. Adrian Powter made a strong impression as the cool, controlled De Bretigny and was suitably nasty as Guillaume de Morfontaine.

This was the first time that I had seen the opera since it was done at the London Coliseum as a vehicle for Valerie Masterson. This performance was not quite up on that one's level of perfection, but it was a damn good evening. The orchestra under their new chief conductor Francesco Corti, played Massenet as if they'd been doing it all their lives.

It would be possible to imagine darker interpretations of the piece, but it is pointless wishing that Massenet's opera is something that it is not. The virtue of Doucet and Barbe's production was that it took the opera at something like face value and did so within Scottish Opera's budgetary constraints.

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