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Manon Lescaut

Published Monday 10 February 2014 at 10:21 by George Hall

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

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.

Production information

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, February 8-27, then touring until March 21

Giacomo Puccini
Mariusz Trelinski
Lothar Koenigs
Welsh National Opera
Chiara Taigi, Gwyn Hughes Jones, David Kempster, Stephen Richardson, Simon Crosby Buttle
Running time:
2hrs 30mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

Wales Millennium Centre, Donald Gordon Cardiff
February 8, 15, 22, 27 2014
Hippodrome Birmingham
March 5, 7 2014
Milton Keynes Theatre Milton Keynes
March 12, 14 2014
Mayflower Southampton
March 19, 21 2014
Theatre Royal, Lyric Plymouth
March 26, 28 2014
Venue Cymru Llandudno
April 2, 4 2014
Hippodrome Bristol
April 11 2014