From Turin to Geneva: Manon Lescaut under Gianandrea Noseda

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Puccini, Manon Lescaut (concert performance): Soloists, Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Torino / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), Théâtre des Nations, Geneva, 30.3.2017. (ALL)

Manon Lescaut –  Maria José Siri
Lescaut – Dalibor Jenis
Des Grieux – Gregory Kunde
Geronte di Ravoir – Carlo Lepore
Edmondo – Francesco Marsiglia
Innkeper/Sergeant – Dario Giogele
A Musician– Clarissa Leonardi
Music Master– Saverio Pugliese
Captain– Cristian Saitta

It was Ricordi himself who suggested that Puccini’s Manon Lescaut be premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin. The famous Italian music editor very wisely wished to avoid competition between the young composer’s new work and Verdi’s Falstaff at La Scala. Both works triumphed and the rest is history.

Following the production of Massenet’s Manon at the beginning of the season, it was a good idea to bring this performance to the Geneva Grand Théâtre, a concert performance during which the singers did much more than simply stand and deliver, showing a theatrical feeling that presumably drew on a run of previous staged performances.

The temporary Théâtre des Nations struggles with its acoustics and since it is not the same size as the Regio, orchestral forces were adjusted accordingly. There were only five double basses and ten first violins, hence the brass section did not dominate during the tutti. The chorus was far in the background stood out nevertheless for its carefully rehearsed singing. The end of Act I, when the chorus of young students laughs at the elderly Geronte’s disappointment, was one such example; one could “see” the scene by listening to the music.

The Teatro Regio orchestra displays some typically Italian strong suits. The bass instruments, double basses and cellos, are lighter compared to their German colleagues. The strings were a little off at times when Puccini has them play rapid passages for dramatic impact, and yet they truly succeeded in “singing” along with the soloists.

Noseda’s reading was idiomatic, crisp, tense and dramatic. All aspects of the story came to life under his baton and he looked exhausted after each act. Having the orchestra on stage allowed us to focus on the subtlety of the orchestration, of the modernity of the harmonics, which are far more daring than one would think, as well as on the variety of colors this conductor achieves. The Act III intermezzo was direct and deeply felt and there was not a dry eye in the audience.

As it is often the case in opera, the two principals may not have been ideal individually, and yet they worked well together and the stage experience they developed in Turin was tangible. As in Madama Butterfly, the soprano and tenor start out young and light-hearted, but drama kicks in fast. Both Maria José Siri and Gregory Kunde were more at ease with the dramatic pages of this score than at the beginning. Their voices do not ring in an italianate manner, but both are secure and powerful. Siri’s death of Manon had intensity and Kunde was Otello – like in the outburst of Act III. Both took care to balance their voices, which is quite rare. One should not mention the tenor’s age but let us just say that his voice has remained intact and his stage presence is still impressive.

Puccini does not develop Lescaut as does Massenet, but Dalibor Jenis showed how good he is with the words nonetheless. Smaller roles were well cast as is often the case with Italian opera houses performing Italian works. Carlo Lepore was a very convincing Geronte, Dario Giogele was commanding in the very important role of the Sergeant in the very dramatic Act III scene and Cristian Saitta had a sumptuous voice in the role of the Captain who allows Des Grieux to follow Manon to America. All words were clear and audible. This was genuine ensemble singing.

Turin is a mere three hours from Geneva and many would be happy to hear these artists often. No one in the audience missed the stage. There was a silence and concentration that displayed how truly enjoyable this evening was. Ricordi should not have worried: Puccini’s Manon Lescaut would have triumphed everywhere.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

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