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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Manon Lescaut (1893)
Kiri Te Kanawa, Manon Lescaut
Placido Domingo, Il Cavaliere Renato des Greux
Thomas Allen, Lescaut
Forbes Robinson, Geronte di Ravoir
Robin Leggate, Edmondo
George Macpherson, Innkeeper
John Fryatt, Dancing Master
Anna Cooper, Madrigal Singer
Handel Thomas, Sergeant of Archers
Mark Curtis, Lamp Lighter
Roderick Earle, Naval Captain
Pascal Allen, Sergeant of Soldiers
Children of Burlington Dance School
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Giuseppe Sinopoli.
Director: Humphrey Burton, Sets: Gunther Schneider, Costumes: Aliute Meczies, Producer: Götz Friedrich.
Rec. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1983, (DVD).
Co-production between BBC Television in association with NVC Arts.
WARNER 50466-7174-2 [1 DVD: 130 minutes]


"Manon is a heroine I believe in and therefore she cannot fail to win the heart of the public." So said Puccini to his publisher Ricordi in 1889. This statement turned out to be highly prophetic, since none of Puccini’s other world successes were received on their first night as rapturously as Manon Lescaut. It was the first example of the dramatic excellence of its composer, and this opera was to pave the way for his later successes: Madama Butterfly, La Bohème and Tosca.

We have here the highly acclaimed production by Götz Friedrich mounted at Covent Garden and sung by two of our greatest contemporary operatic superstars, Kiri Te Kanawa and Placido Domingo. This recording is directed by Humphrey Burton which ensures that the visual and dramatic impact of the production will be delivered in a thoroughly accurate and appropriate way.

Unlike many DVD opera issues which are totally hampered by stupid, inappropriate sets and costumes which totally ruin the work of the artists, this production is a model of what a good opera on DVD should be. Manon is set in the appropriate costumes for its period (18th Century France) and, apart from a fairly modern-looking Louisiana desert scene, I have nothing but praise for these aspects of the production.

Sinopoli paces the drama very effectively and the Royal Opera Orchestra can take on any competition and come up smiling.

The two stars deliver what is now expected of them, and these two lovely voices whether separate or together, greatly enhance the pleasure. There are no weak members in the remainder of the cast, and the whole opera is a delight from start to finish.

Manon was a youthful work, but still betrays the influences that formed Puccini’s mature style. Wagner’s harmonic language is there (particularly of Tristan) whilst the closing of Act I is reminiscent of middle-period Verdi. Other influences are also clearly evident such as Ponchielli. This is to be expected in an early work as the composer tries out different styles while his own mature style is slowly developing.

Without actually trying to spot the various examples of developing styles the opera can be enjoyed immensely on its own terms; both lyrical and dramatic in equal measure. Act III is an almost perfectly realised large structure with Manon and her fellow prisoners paraded before the public. It is perhaps one of the highlights of the score.

The last Act is a bit of an anti-climax, set in the Louisiana desert, but even so, there is clear evidence of Puccini’s increasing skill at creating a believable drama out of what is, after all, a fairly simple tale.

This DVD is a very good addition to the catalogue, and likely to be enjoyed by all who watch it.

John Phillips


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