BWW Review: MANON LESCAUT at War Memorial Opera House
On November 24, 2019, San Francisco Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's third opera, MANON LESCAUT with two spectacularly large-voiced singers, Liana Haroutounian and Brian Jagde. In a most forthright manner, Director Olivier Tambosi told the story of Renato Des Grieux' unrequited love for Manon, the socially repressed convent school graduate who suddenly discovers a new world of fashion, jewels, and predatory men
Tambosi's Manon cannot imagine that Geronte, a man who gave her jewels to wear would want them back when she took them off. When her elderly sugar daddy caught her with Des Grieux, she held a mirror to his face and said she needed a young lover. After Geronte had her arrested and handcuffed, he showed her her own mirror image. Totally devastated, she learned her lesson much too late.
Production Designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann provided timely costumes and sumptuous scenery for every act except the last. There, mere rocks suggested uninhabited dry wilderness. The Inn was bright with pastel colors and the scene was full of action. Manon had servants and entertainers in her quarters at Geronte's estate, but In the darkness of the prison, Manon and other inmates were branded so that they could never again be truly free. Tambosi told a dark tale of 19th century France.
Brian Jagde has been forming a major career as a hefty-voiced tenor with a bright sound that could be heard through the blended harmony of a moderately large orchestra. In Act I, Des Grieux went from a boy who did not care whether the girlfriend of the day was blonde or brunette to a young man who had just seen the girl of his dreams as he sang a delightfully lyrical rendition of "Donna non vidi mai." His character became bolder, almost to a breaking point, as in Act III he sang "No! No! pazzo son!" with beauteous high notes and heart rending passion. As a result, he was allowed to accompany his love in deportation. His character was so credible that it made me wonder what his life would have been like after Manon's death.
As a demure Manon in Act I, Lianna Haroutounian first appeared in a plain brown dress, perhaps convent style. It was not until the second act that the audience realized what had attracted Des Grieux. She sang her aria "In quelle trine morbide" in splendid style with vivid colors in her tones as she questioned her need for luxury. Although Haroutounian's character grew in depth, she would never escape the social boundaries of her time. She died a few paces from a man who loved her but could not support her habits.
Philip Skinner was an outstanding Geronte de Ravoir. Charming in his first appearance, one began to realize his true character as he arranged to abduct Manon. He would have her whether she was willing to go with him or not. He had the power to do what he wanted and he enjoyed the moment when he triumphantly showed her the mirror image of her arrest.
Anthony Clark Evans was an uncaring brother who sang with smooth tones, while Adler Fellow Christopher Oglesby was an interesting and vocally impressive Edmondo. Other Adler Fellows in the cast were Ashley Dixon as the Singer, SeokJong Baek as the Innkeeper and Naval Captain along with Zhengyi Bai as the Lamplighter and the evil-seeming Dancing Master.
Ian Robertson's chorus acted as individuals and small groups while singing in pleasant harmony. Since Conductor Nicola Luisotti had large voices on stage, he did not hold his orchestra down. Although the singers were occasionally overpowered, the orchestra sounded gloriously unfettered and I doubt I've heard the Intermezzo played with more pathos. MANON LESCAUT was well worth the trip to San Francisco and I hope it will not be long before San Francisco Opera revives this production.
photo: Cory Weaver