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21 July, 2009

Manon Lescaut at the Sydney Opera House. Worth seeing!

Manon Lescaut - Giacomo Puccini. Thurs 16th July 2009 Sydney Opera House.

Lescaut - Teddy Tahu-Rhodes
Manon - Cheryl Barker
René Des Grieux - Jorge Lopez-Yanez
Geronte di Ravoir - Richard Alexander
c. Alexander Polianichko
d. Gale Edwards

Dear Colleagues,
The opera company has pulled it out of the bag again with another ‘adequate’ performance containing enough high points to keep the crowds happy. Mr Tahu-Rhodes is a great opera singer and he was crucial to the success of the piece. However, this casting decision left a great singer without as much as a famous aria and further, it allowed him to play another ‘scallywag’ role, hardly a great dramatic feat.

Each of the principal singers used their considerable resources, showing that grand opera is always a vocal marathon. The artists deal with it variously but there are some ground rules most agree on such as resting the day before a ‘big sing’.

Mr Lopez-Yanez eschewed some high notes initially but warmed into the role of the student Des Grieux. He looks the part, and moves emotionally from adolescence to manhood in Act I between his light ‘Tra voi belle’ to the profound ‘Donna non vidi mai’.

Ms Barker is an ‘immaculate’ singer and her attention to detail in this as every role was near flawless. More important perhaps were the couple of times when she has to ‘let it rip’ and take a risk. Each of these paid off handsomely and the audience received that thrill which opera is all about. Her impetuous phrasing of ‘Tu, tu, amore tu’ contrasted with the lilting ‘In quelle trine morbide’ and finally her woeful American denouement ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’. For some reason she was not made up to look like the debutante we know she can portray so well.

The set and setting for act one was rather clumsy to my taste being two large unhitched stage-coaches, neither being the one Mlle Lescaut arrived on, nor either the one the lovers fled in. It was unclear why so much activity happened atop these Cobb & Co cabooses.

Act two, by contrast, was a magnificent Parisian salon with large double doors (which seemed to lead to nowhere). Unlike Massenet’s slightly earlier 5 act version, Manon is already beyond her fling with young des Grieux and in the Parisian household of rich old Geronte. It appears that Puccini wished to present an original version of the events as well as a more concise adaptation of Prevost‘s story. Auber had also written an opera on the same story 30 years earlier.

Richard Alexander played an excellent Geronte. Dominica Matthews and Stephen Smith were also fine as madrigal singer and student.

The chorus and orchestra were up to their usual high standards.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

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