Dually swell at Lyric Opera's Manon
TOC commander/editor-in-chief Frank Sennett nicely captured the lavishly indulgent pre-concert and intermission festivities that adorned Lyric's opening gala for Manon on Saturday evening. Nowhere except a Lyric gala can you feel underdressed—as I did—wearing your best slacks, shiniest shoes and silkiest button-up and tie (shoulda gone for the damn tuxedo). Fashion anxiety aside, I can't think of a production in recent memory more deserving of the glitz and red carpet than Scotsman David McVicar's vividly raw production of Jules Massenet's Manon. (An opera last seen at Lyric in 1983!)
But the singers stole the show, especially the seductive soprano Natalie Dessay as Manon and exquisite tenor Jonas Kaufmann as the betrayed Chevalier Des Grieux. My date and I both agreed that Act 3 was the evening's money shot: a remorseful Manon pouting in front a ballet troupe led by Joffrey dancer Michael Levine masterfully conflated all the performing arts at once. In scene 2, at the chapel where Des Grieux's pledges his life to God, we really learn that Kaufmann's powerfully but not abrasive pipes are as good as advertised. Once Manon enters the church and pleads Des Grieux back, the anguish and fireworks really explode. Even the snowy, tragic finale in Act 5 doesn't quite match its intensity. Local Lyric tenor David Cangelosi even brought a previously unseen depth to the auxiliary role of the lecherous Guillot, a character often portrayed as a punching bag. And if Manon requires idiomatically French treatment from its musicians, conductor Emmanuel Villaume and the Lyric Opera Orchestra delivered without a hitch.