A Somewhat Passionless Manon Lescaut at the Liceu

SpainSpain Puccini, Manon Lescaut: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Emmanuel Villaume (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 10 & 11.6.2018. (JMI)

Liceu’s Manon Lescaut © A. Bofill

Manon Lescaut – Liudmyla Monastyrska/Maria Pia Piscitelli
Des Grieux – Gregory Kunde/Jorge de León
Lescaut – David Bižic/Jared Bybee
Geronte di Ravoir – Carlos Chausson
Edmondo – Mikeldi Atxalandabaso
Singer – Carol García
Dance Master – José Manuel Zapata
Innkeeper – Marc Pujol
Lamplighter – Jordi Casanova
Sergeant – Michael Borth
Captain – David Sánchez
Renato des Grieux (actor) – Albert Muntanyola

Director – Davide Livermore
Sets – Davide Livermore and Giò Forma
Costumes – Giusi Giustino
Lighting – Nicolas Bovey

Manon Lescaut has returned to the Liceu, ​​where it could last be seen in January 2007 with the wonderful Daniela Dessì and Maria Guleghina alternating in the role of Manon. This new production is by Davide Livermore – a coproduction with Palau de Les Arts and the Teatro San Carlo, where it premiered a year ago. The action has been moved to 1892 when Ellis Island opened as an immigration center in New York; but the opera starts in 1954, the year of the closure of Ellis Island, with an old Des Grieux recalling in flashback what happened all those years ago.

The production is rather uneven, with Acts I and III more successful than the second and final acts. In the first act we are in a train station with a locomotive on which the young lovers will flee, while the third act is dominated by a large hall with bars and the appearance of a ship in the background that the lovers will take to the New World. Act II, the least convincing, takes place in a bordello which is rather badly suited to the libretto. And then there’s Act IV, which takes us to a kind of hospital where everything collides with the text: we should be in the desert with a lack of water. The frequent presence of an actor playing the old Des Grieux is repetitive and nothing adds: his appearance in the initial scene would have been enough.

At the head of the musical direction was Emmanuel Villaume, making his debut at the Liceu. Manon Lescaut is an opera where passion must prevail, but this has not been the case in Barcelona: the passion was largely absent in Villaume’s conducting. I think Renato Palumbo’s January 2007 reading was much more appropriate. The performances of both the orchestra and the chorus were correct.

Manon Lescaut was played in the first cast by soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, one of the most important voices today. Her performance fell a bit short of what one expects from her: again, there was a lack of passion, which is a fundamental ingredient in the character of Manon Lescaut.

The second interpreter of Manon was Maria Pia Piscitelli, who has appeared several times in second casts in this theatre. Her performance could be described as adequate: she has an attractive middle register, but is somewhat tight at the top, where her voice changes colour.

Des Grieux was sung in the first cast by tenor Gregory Kunde. I first saw him in this character in Bilbao in February 2016, and it seems to me that this is not among his best vocal choices. His voice lacks brightness, and he is rather mature for the role.

In the second cast we had Jorge de León, whose voice seems better suited to the character both in width and pure brilliance. His singing here was a pleasant surprise, in fact, because the last few times I had seen him on stage his pronounced vibrato made one worry. This time, it all went much better; it’s not that the vibrato has disappeared, but it is less pronounced than before. This is good news, since there are not many voices like his today.

Lescaut was sung by baritone David Bižic in the first cast, but Jared Bybee in the second cast was more interesting. His voice is attractive and well-suited to this role, and he made a positive impression.

Among the secondary characters I would single out the excellent performances of Mikeldi Atxalandabaso as Edmondo, and veteran Carlos Chausson as Geronte di Ravoir.

José M. Irurzun

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