BWW Review: Des Moines' MANON Is a Welcome Journey Taken From Your Own Couch
Opera companies worldwide have found themselves canceling their seasons, including Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO). The difference here: an Emmy-winning partnership with Iowa Public Television, now Iowa Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that produced four Emmy nominations, and two Emmy wins.
Now the partners are coming together to offer a virtual season, that allows you to see opera from the best seats in the house: your own home, starting on June 28 with their Emmy-winning production of Massenet's MANON.
MANON, sung in French, with subtitles in English, tells the story of a young lady who stops to visit her cousin on her way to join a convent. While visiting, Manon is wooed by a nobleman named Guillot de Morfontaine, but she falls in love when she meets Le Chevalier des Grieux and flees with him to Paris. While living in Paris, Manon and Griux are visited by her cousin Lescaut and Monsieur de Brétigny.
While Grieux and Lescaut discuss a letter he has written asking for his father's permission to marry Manon, Brétigny tells Manon that Grieux is will be captured and ask her to join him. Act 2 ends with Manon staying in her deciding to join Brétigny as she hears Grieux being captured. Will the young lovers be brought back together? That you will need to tune into "Manon" to find out.
This production is under the direction of Kristine McIntyre, who does a fantastic job of bringing out the essence of 18th century France and makes it relevant to modern audiences.
One of the ways she does this is in how she illustrates the class of each character. While the costumes, extravagantly designed by Roger Kirk from Opera Australia, tell us part of the class story, McIntyre takes it a step farther by working the ensemble members into the scene changes.
This allows for a swift and smooth transition from Act 1 into Act 2. Another moment where her direction stood out to me was in the grand opening to Act 3. We see the cast frozen behind a scrim, and at a certain point in the music, they started to move as the scrim began going up. While it would have been wonderful to see this live, it gave MANON one of its most cinematic moments.
MANON is a stunning production to watch, the cast and orchestra doing a beautiful job of delivering this gorgeous music, under the brilliant conducting of David Neely. As Manon, Sydney Mancasola takes the audience on from the joys that money and love can bring, to showing the pain that can come with them. From the moment she comes on stage, she commands the audience's attention, and her gorgeous soprano voice has the audience fall in love with her Manon.
Joseph Dennis, as Chevalier des Grieux, gives takes the audience on a different journey.
While Mancasola's Manon is on a journey of discovery, Dennis' Chevalier takes the audience on a complicated journey of loss.
His astonishing tenor voice lets us feel the yearning of a young man falling in love, to a man disparaged by love, to captivate by love again, to the final pain of loss. The struggle of love and loss is best seen during scene 2 of Act 3, as his character tries to forget Manon by joining a monastery. As an audience, we see his yearning to forget Manon, but the longing he still has for her when she shows back up.
Michael Adams completes the trio of leads as Lescaut and takes the audience on yet another journey. While the other actors have taken us on love and loss journeys, he provides an excellent foil by taking us on one of honor. We see his character talk about familiar honor, but I appreciated that he played up the idea of what is honorable for a man and honorable for a woman during this show.
From the direction to the sets and costumes, to the performances, MANON takes the audience on a welcome journey away from current times to an older Paris. If you find yourself needing an escape, I would highly recommend tuning in for this gorgeous production. While the opera's first stream is June 28 at 2:00 PM, if you aren't able to watch it, it will be available online for an additional 45 days. To find out more about Des Moines Metro Opera's virtual season and the supplemental events offered, visit https://desmoinesmetroopera.org/virtualfestival/
Review was written by DC Felton
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