Sondra Radvanovsky’s Manon Lescaut at the Deutsche Oper Sets the Bar High

GermanyGermany Puccini: Manon Lescaut: Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra and Chorus, Donald Runnicles (conductor), Deutsche Oper Berlin, 14.11.2015. (JMI)

Deutsche Oper’s Manon Lescaut (c) Bettina Stöss

Puccini, Manon Lescaut


Direction: Gilbert Deflo
Sets and Costumes: William Orlandi


Manon Lescaut: Sondra Radvanovsky
Des Grieux: Stefano La Colla
Lescaut: Dalibor Jenis
Geronte: Stephen Bronk
Edmondo: Gideon Poppe
Dance Master: Burkhard Ulrich
Musician: Annika Schlicht
Innkeeper: Noel Bouley

For me, the chief attraction of this production was the presence of Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role, and the results met all expectations: the American soprano was splendid and the musical direction worthy of praise.

This Gilbert Deflo production had its première here in 2004. It’s a very traditional work with few personal touches, and firmly faithful to the libretto. In the first half of the opera, the sets are realistic, but in the last act the stage holds just a few rocks. The 18th-century costumes correspond to the period in which the opera is set; they are appropriate in general, and even funny in the case of the musicians and guests at Geronte’s mansion. The production is brightly lit, especially in the second act.

Donald Runnicles has spent six years now as musical director of the DOB, and he has proved to be an excellent conductor. I’ve been fortunate to see him on the podium here many times, and his performances have always been superb. Manon Lescaut was no exception to the rule: his conducting was exemplary, drawing an excellent performance from the orchestra, helping the singers at all times and conveying emotion to the audience. The chorus too was marvellous. 

Lately, Manon Lescaut has become an opera favoured by top sopranos and tenors. Anna Netrebko played the title role under the baton of Riccardo Muti in Rome almost two years ago, Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais were the protagonists in both Munich and London and in Berlin we have Sondra Radvanovsky. She may not yet have arrived at the same divo status as Netrebko or Kaufmann, but it would be difficult today to find a better Manon than hers. If I’m not mistaken, she hasn’t sung the role since her debut in Leipzig in 2008. Ms. Radvanovsky has the perfect voice for this Puccini heroine, an amazingly beautiful and powerful voice and an overwhelming mastery of dynamics. She was the great figure of the night and set the bar very high for anyone who takes on this role. Her rendering of “In quelle trine morbide” was spectacular, as was the always much expected “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” She was simply wonderful in the part.

Renato des Grieux was sung by Italian tenor Stefano La Colla, whom I had seen in Munich last year. I had the impression then of a tenor with an important voice but some significant defects, especially his lack of expressiveness. Things have not totally changed since then, although there are improvements. His voice is nicely suited to this role in the middle range and opens up very well at the top, but I still find his sound at the passage unconvincing. While his voice has definitely improved, he is still a rather inexpressive interpreter.

Lescaut was played by Dalibor Jenis: a correct interpreter with a wide and adequate voice. The secondary characters were not as impressive. Stephen Bronk was a modest Geronte in vocal terms, and tenor Gideon Poppe has an attractive but rather small voice.

The performance began with the entire company gathered on stage. Donald Runnicles dedicated some words to the Paris tragedy and asked for a minute of silence from the audience.

Jose M. Irurzun

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