Manon Lescaut at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Last night we heard the second production of our Chicago Lyric Opera season, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, mounted in a new production. Let me say up front: I thought the production was okay. I thought the performances were okay. But the total effect left me unsatisfied.

I’d seen Manon Lescaut two or three times previously. I’ve never seen it performed in such a buffo fashion. This was particularly true in Acts I and II and I found this a little offputting. Previous productions I’d seen treated Manon Lescaut as a verismo opera, much like La Boheme or Madama Butterfly which it resembles strongly from a dramatic point-of-view.

Manon is vocally challenging: one of the if not the most challenging in the Puccini repertoire since it requires a changing in vocal colorization of the soprano throughout the opera from lirico in the first act to spinto in the last. Does any other Puccini opera ask trills of the soprano as in Act II? I thought that Karita Mattila handled the part well—much better, in fact, than her performance in last year’s Don Giovanni.

When Vladimir Galouzine began singing des Grieux last night I was quite impressed. He’s easily the biggest, most powerful tenor voice we’ve heard in a long time at Lyric and although I loved his performance in The Queen of Spades a few years ago I don’t honestly recall his having that kind of power. But I soon received the impression that he had only a single level: forte. And there was a rough spot in his vocal range that showed up from time to time (not at the top of his range but just below it). I’m told this is not a permanent feature of his singing. I wonder what was wrong. I thought he fluffed the first act Donna non vidi mai, probably the most recognizeable tenor aria in the opera. It was barely recognizeable. But I also thought he was excellent in the second act and quite acceptable in the third.

UPDATE: Now if you want to hear what that aria is supposed to sound like, listen to this. The greatest tenor who ever lived.

I found Christopher Feigum’s Lescaut and Bryan Griffin’s Edmondo quite impressive.

There was a problem with musical balance. The orchestra was somewhat overbearing occasionally overwhelming the singers.

And then there were the sets. Don’t get me wrong: I thought the sets were beautiful. But, as you can see below, the sets had a very strong verticality to them while the staging was quite horizontal. This made the cast look stunted and they’re not. Galouzine is of average height and Mattila is quite tall—quite the Amazon, in fact.

It was an entertaining night at the opera. But not a great one.

The season so far: La Cenerentola, Manon Lescaut. Advantage: La Cenerentola.

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