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Manon review at Royal Opera House London

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Revived by Christian Rath, Laurent Pelly’s staging of Massenet’s romantic classic – a significant success when new in 2010 – returns to the Covent Garden stage and once again delivers a convincing realisation of the story of the juvenile femme fatale whose conflicted desire for both true love and luxury leads to disaster for her and for her poor-but-mostly-honest boyfriend, Des Grieux.

Chantal Thomas’ sets and Pelly’s costumes (co-signed by Jean-Jacques Delmotte) move the originally 18th-century action forward to the period of Massenet himself, whose opera debuted in 1884; much of it is handsome, its semi-abstract look reinforcing the alienating effects Pelly introduces, with Manon’s gentlemen-admirers not just prurient but offensively predatory.

At the heart of the piece is Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho’s flighty heroine, good-looking in a gamine sort of way and indeed glamorous enough to queen it in the Cours-la-Reine scene. Vocally, she’s touching and, when required, brilliant, a good match for the sympathetic and often dreamily sung Des Grieux of Matthew Polenzani, who rises to the opera’s great tenor moments with aplomb.

There’s also a strong supporting cast, led by Audun Iversen’s dramatically dynamic and punchily sung Lescaut, Christophe Mortagne’s amiably rakish Guillot and William Shimell’s urbane De Bretigny. Alastair Miles sketches in Des Grieux’s respectable father with acumen.

A long edition of the score is played, but it fully justifies itself in this skilful staging and with the passionate engagement of conductor Emmanuel Villaume. The Royal Opera Chorus is on excellent form, adding some fine cameos to the richly ornate general picture. The ballet sequences go well in Lionel Hoche’s choreography.

Production Information

Royal Opera House, London, January 14-February 4

Composer
Jules Massenet
Directors
Laurent Pelly/Christian Rath
Conductor
Emmanuel Villaume
Producer
Royal Opera
Cast
Ermonela Jaho, Matthew Polenzani, Audun Iversen, William Shimell, Alastair Miles, Christophe Mortagne
Running time
4hrs

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