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Manon Lescaut review at Grand Leeds

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Puccini’s earliest success joins the repertory of Opera North, who last season tackled the other familiar setting of the same tale by Massenet.

Daniel Slater again directs, bringing the story forward from the18th century to a France newly liberated from the Nazis. Robert Innes Hopkins’s designs evoke the period skilfully and his costumes offer a clever blend of the chic and the makeshift.

But Slater’s decision to add an extra layer to the plot by making this a filming of Manon compromises the clarity of an essentially simple if ambiguous moral tale. It is not obvious where the filming begins and ends and the director himself seems to lose interest in the idea before the evening’s over.

Few operas rely so absolutely on just two principal, and this is not an ideal pairing. In the title role Natalia Dercho does some stylish things but both vocally and physically she is too mature to suggest an 18-year-old gold-digger let loose in sophisticated Paris. As her young lover Des Grieux, Hugh Smith has a sizeable voice but not one with much Italianate quality to it. He is a limited actor.

It is left to Christopher Purves as Manon’s cynical brother and Brian Bannatyne-Scott as her elderly admirer Geronte to steal the show, which they duly do.

But this is a great night for Opera North’s orchestra and for incoming music director Richard Farnes, whose attention to every last semiquaver of Puccini’s writing pays the richest of dividends.

Production Information

Grand, Leeds, September 23, 25, October 6, 8, November 3, 5, then touring

Daniel Slater
Opera North
Cast includes
Natalia Dercho, Hugh Smith, Christopher Purves, Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Running time
2hrs 15mins

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