Review: WNO – Manon Lescaut @ WMC
Welsh National Opera’s New Year has begun with their Fallen Women season. I am attempting to catch Manon Lescaut, I have missed and she has smashed upon her floor, bloodied in her red trench coat, with cigarette in handâ€¦
I had hoped things would be better after their dreadful stagings in the Tudor operas. I know things will get better, but this production left me in a state of indifference and with bouts of uncomfortableness. This tragic tale of the prostitute potentially saved by a suitor is not Puccini's best story, but this is what put him on the map as a great Italian opera composer. He went on to create much better operas: Tosca, La bohÃ¨me and Madam Butterfly. I feel I can say that, since I have seen them all, along with Turandot and his short, all female opera, Suor Angelica.
Taking the story by AbbÃ© PrÃ©vost out of the 17th Century (this story has been turned into an opera, five times by different composers), this production is in a time that we can relate to: now. So, we have subways, neon lights (a highlight of the disappointing evening), lounge lizards and other sordid affairs. What remains most disappointing was the lack of chemistry between the two lead characters. You simply didn’t care what happened to them at all. I’m still thinking why this was. This is a type of story we all know well, be it Pretty Woman, My Fair Lady (of sorts) and a few nods to David Lynch’s disturbing classic film, Blue Velvet.
The misogyny seen here goes off the meter, as we see ‘‘fallen’’ girls for sale, ready to be used as sex slaves. This was not easy viewing. As Sophie Rashbrook pointed out in the pre-show talk, this sort of thing still happens today in our own city, as girls walk the streets at night, hoping to pick up a man. You can forget such things go on. A side not random to this was the crazy American guy who came into our somewhereto_ shop last summer to write on the wall ‘‘I visited a slave market: boys go for pennies, girls go for much more’’. Hard not to forget a fact like thatâ€¦
The two leads in question were Chiara Taigi as Manon and Gwyn Hughes Jones as her ‘‘savoir’’ Des Grieux. Fine singers indeed who managed to keep the production from making it too poor an evening. It was hard to know just when Taigi was on stage, since this production calls upon a few other actresses to play Manon as well (also unnecessary and silly). However, her singing was of the stroppy, materialistic diva we would expect for this role. As I also saw in his performances in Tosca and Butterfly, Jones is the perfect Puccini tenor. As a singer from North Wales, he has an international standard of singing, which I approve of every time I hear him sing.
Like with The Tudors, the film-maker and director, Mariusz TreliÅ„ski, was booed as he arrived onstage with the other creatives. I could see this coming and in a way felt it was right. Perhaps I should change my mind.
I’m still-star struck by Peter Grimes and knew nothing could compare to its power. I know La traviata shall be great, since I saw WNO’s previous production. Boulevard Solitude is a curiosity that I also look forward to.
A real shame.