Still Going Strong – Manon Lescaut in Stockholm

SwedenSweden Puccini, Manon Lescaut: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera / Marc Soustrot (conductor), Royal Opera Stockholm 20.9.2017. (GF)

Kungliga Operan - Manon Lescaut. William Davis Lind och Kungliga Operans kör.
William Davis Lind (Edmondo) & Chorus (c) Markus Gårder


Sets – Lars Östbergh
Costumes – Annsofi Nyberg
Lighting – Hans-Åke Sjöquist
Choreography – Carina Jarlemark
Director – Knut Hendriksen

Cast included:

Manon Lescaut – Asmik Grigorian
Lescaut – Karl-Magnus Fredriksson
Chevalier des Grieux – Sergey Polyakov
Geronte de Ravoir – Lennart Forsén
Edmondo – William Davis Lind

This production was originally performed in 2005 (see review) and was only the second production of Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera. The first dates back to 1929 and ran until 1960. The reprise premiere was the 89th performance on home turf. The production has stood the test of time admirably. It features 18th-century costumes, but the sets are more timeless. The first two acts are extravagantly luxurious, while the third act, at the harbour in Le Havre is grey and chilly and the final act in the desert in America is barren: only sand, sand, sand and a blazing sun that slowly sinks beyond the horizon and finally disappears when Manon Lescaut dies.

It has been said before that this opera has obvious dramaturgical weaknesses. The first two acts are sprawling with much decorative posturing and little drama, but Knut Hendriksen has managed to fill out the action with plenty of bustling business and the performance never feels longwinded. The members of the chorus have a great deal of acting to do, both collectively and individually. Their enjoyment was contagious.

I experienced Roland Böer’s conducting as rather aggressive 12 years ago, but Marc Soustrot kept a lower profile. The well-known intermezzo – played between the third and fourth acts in this case – was sensitively shaped, giving the protagonists space for a heartrending final act. None of the soloists from the original production had survived for the reprise. In the title role Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian returned after her successes as Madama Butterfly and Fedora, and she was superb in every respect. A great actress, her beautiful soprano can express all the multiple feelings of this great role. Her ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’ was deeply moving but she glittered convincingly in the first acts as well. Russian tenor Sergey Polyakov was an excellent Des Grieux, singing with rounded Italianate tone and making the most of his set pieces. As Lescaut, Manon’s brother, Royal Court Singer Karl-Magnus Fredriksson created a multi-faceted portrait with small means, while Lennart Forsén was a rather civilised Geronte, less grandiose and boisterous than Sten Wahlund in the original production. Among the lesser roles, Göran Eliasson’s dancing master was perfect in every respect: every movement, every gesture, every expression so stylish and elegant. The young tenor William Davis Lind, still a student at the Stockholm University of Opera, showed great talent. He is a natural actor and has a well-schooled lyrical voice – rather small but it will certainly become an asset for any opera house in the future. His Edmondo in the first act was a splendid impersonation and he returned in the third act for the lamplighter’s short appearance.

Manon Lescaut’s return to the Stockholm stage is to be heartily applauded. It will run until 21 October.

Göran Forsling

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