Welsh National Opera’s spring season focuses on Fallen Women, as represented by Verdi’s La traviata alongside Manon Lescaut as portrayed both by Puccini in his early opera and by Hans Werner Henze in his Boulevard Solitude. These last two shows are essentially produced by the same team: director of the Polish National Opera Mariusz Trelinski, his regular set designer Boris Kudlicka, and video projection designer Bartek Macias; Magdalena Musial is responsible for Manon Lescaut’s costumes.
Chiara Taigi in Manon Lescaut Photo: Johan Persson
The original narrative takes place in 18th-century France, but Trelinski moves it forward to a bleak contemporary world; the courtyard of the busy coaching inn at Amiens where the pleasure-loving Manon Lescaut first encounters the penniless Des Grieux becomes the grungy concourse of a soulless metro station. Unfortunately, the black-on-black visuals seem more or less stuck, so that the final scene - originally a wasteland in the US where the heroine, deported as a prostitute, dies - takes both Manon and the audience back to square one.
On the way, her elderly admirer Geronte becomes a violently abusive pimp running a sleazy sex bar; in the moving deportation scene, the chorus - originally sympathetic to the plight of Manon and the victimised sex-workers alongside her - turn into complicit ghouls. Something emotionally complex and nuanced has been rendered monochrome and resolutely dark.
Decent singing offers some compensation. Chiara Taigi’s substantial Italian soprano helps her define a memorable Manon. Gwyn Hughes Jones’s Des Grieux is solid but more hard-pressed. Conductor Lothar Koenigs points up the score’s colour and vitality - both of them under-represented on stage.