main theme in Wagner’s DerRing des Nibelungen is greed,
and greed is also the main reason for Manon Lescaut’s downfall,
which is graphically delineated in the second act of the opera.
This is also prominent in Graham Vick’s Glyndebourne production,
where upper class habits are rendered in parody with exaggerated
gestures; the fair Manon from Act I acts the prima donna. The
stage picture is sparse, however. We see an enormous bed with
a large mirror behind it, in which Humphrey Burton, the video
director, sometimes lets us see the action.
also are the other acts: in the first there is only a bare stage
and some chairs. People are in constant action, literally gushing.
The third act takes us to the harbour at Le Havre. There we
see an expressionist-slanting building which around the corner
becomes the ship that the women enter for their voyage to America.
The last act shows a desert, littered with stones and there
is a reddish backdrop. There is a certain modernistic timelessness
about the production, but this is contradicted by the costumes,
which are decidedly late 18th century. The sparseness
makes it easier to concentrate on the play with excellent actors
throughout. The experience of the performance is vivid and heart-rending.
imagine that the conducting of John Eliot Gardiner will divide
opinions. There is a freshness and freedom about his reading
that keeps the drama alive but his tempo choices can sometimes
feel idiosyncratic. He often urges the action on, almost hectically;
the mass scenes in the first act are very lively indeed. On
the other hand the love duets and arias tend to be slower than
usual, as if he wants to wring the last drop of sentimentality
from the music. It all works – to a large degree thanks to the
lovers’ impassioned singing and convincing acting. The Intermezzo,
before the third act, is played with such intensity and such
expressiveness that it becomes a drama within the drama – again
a very individual reading.
opera is teeming with minor roles and Graham Vick has added
individual characters for members of the chorus in the first
act, making it brim with life. The actors who create the banished
women in the third act have a field day. Among the characters
in the second act levé, the young Sarah Connolly makes a memorable
madrigal singer. Antonello Palombi is a lively and scheming
Edmondo in the first act and sings well. Roberto De Candia as
Lescaut makes a believable portrait of the brother but his voice
seems to be on the small side. Veteran Paolo Montarsolo, an
experienced buffo since his debut in 1950, is here seen in his
last appearance on stage. His voice is frayed but that matters
little in this role where the expression and the identification
is what counts.
all-important roles are the young lovers, and Patrick Denniston
and Adina Nitescu are just cut out for their parts. Denniston,
handsome and with dashing stage presence, acts with conviction.
He has a youthful voice. He sings the big numbers with glow
but he doesn’t sound very Italianate. Ms Nitescu, a former Cardiff
“Singer of the World” winner, is graceful and charming, a little
reminiscent of Victoria de los Angeles. She has the required
power for her big solos. There is a very touching moment at
the end of her last act aria, when in a gesture of supplication
she stretches her arms towards the onlookers; her eyes are moist
with tears. Of course Manon created her own misfortune through
her greed, but we still feel compassion for her.
some initial misgivings concerning the conducting I came to
like Gardiner’s unorthodox approach. The staging, acting and
singing made this a worthwhile opera evening in front of the