Manon Lescaut in Outdated Production

SpainSpain  Puccini: Manon Lescaut, Seville Orchestra, Maestranza Chorus, Pedro Halffter (conductor), Teatro de la Maestranza, Seville, 5.12.2013 (JMI)


Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut: Ainhoa Arteta
Des Grieux: Walter Fraccaro
Lescaut: Vittorio Vitelli
Edmondo: Andrés Veramendi
Geronte: Stefano Palatchi
Musician: Alexandra Rivas
Dance Master: Manuel de Diego
Production: Teatro Regio, Turin
Direction: Didier Flamand
Sets: Thierry Flamand
Costumes: Christian Gasc
Lighting: Juan Manuel Guerra

It was surprising for Seville, which offers four or five operas a season, to program Manon Lescaut since it has been just ten years since it was last performed here; and even more so considering that it is not one of Puccini’s most popular operas. I would guess that the musical tastes of the theatre’s artistic director, who is also its  music director, had much to do with the decision since the musical appeal of this opera is remarkable. Perhaps Pedro Halffter is following in the footsteps of Christian Thielemann in Dresden, as this Puccini opera is one of only three that the latter has conducted at the Semperoper, and the only Italian one. Of course, the similarities do not go any further than this.

The stage production comes from Turin’s Teatro Regio and was directed by Didier Flamand. It is very traditional, and quite distant from what we see today in opera houses. The minimalism currently in vogue is exchanged here for absolute realism, with different sets for each of the four acts. This has the disadvantage of requiring  ̶   at least in the Maestranza  ̶  three intervals, which is not easy to understand, and less to accept, in today’s life. The first act seems like something out of a production from the 1960s; the second act in the mansion of Geronte is quite attractive. Act III in Le Havre is good, while in the last act we come back to the old days. The costumes are closely tied to the libretto. The stage direction is almost non-existent.

Pedro Halffter offered a light and delicate a reading of the score. Puccini is reputed to  have said that his Manon was visceral and passionate while Massenet’s was delicate. However, Halffter’s conducting seemed more suited to Massenet’s Manon than to that of Puccini. Not that I think his reading was wrong, but I don’t believe that it is what the Lucca composer wanted. A Manon Lescaut that is short of passion cannot succeed. There was a good sound from the orchestra, particularly at the intermezzo and in the last act.

Ainhoa ​​Arteta was again singing the title role following her debut in Las Palmas just over 4 years ago. She was certainly the most interesting singer  ̶  I would say the only one  ̶  in the cast. Ms. Arteta is well suited to the role and an accomplished interpreter, which resulted in a very convincing performance.

Walter Fraccaro as Des Grieux has a voice that is up to the demands of the score and no problems with the tessitura, but there is a shortage of colors in his tenor which resulted in a very monotonous Des Grieux.

Vittorio Vitelli has never convinced me as a singer, and didn’t this time either. His  Lescaut seemed to me rather boring. In the suporting roles Andrés Veramentdi was quite good as Edmondo. Stefano Palatchi sang the part of Geronte de Ravoir with dignity.

José Mª. Irurzun

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