The opera at platform one is . . .

Gwyn Hughes Jones (Des Grieux) and Chiara Taigi (Manon Lescaut) Picture: Johan Persson

Manon Lescaut

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

***

ONE must ultimately wonder what any deceased composer would make of their works when the original story is diverted to either support or redirect the original intention.

Puccini himself might of have been a little perplexed over this version of Manon Lescaut by the WNO as at times it was looking more like a sequel to The Matrix rather than a tale of an innocent  woman seduced by wealthy opulence.

With everyone clad in PVC, sunglasses, business wear and leather attire the entire cast slither or march around the subterranean Tube station against a moving backdrop of city lights whilst a giant digital clock throws up random times and sequences.

It’s an impressive dramatic setting but after the initial travel arrangements of everyone in the first act it often just gets in the way and seems irrelevant. At times it contrasts awkwardly to the words sung of people on coming on to the streets, the freedom of the hot plains and the dusty roads when you are looking at a deserted Tube train setting, with its neon exit signs and litter.

If director Mariusz Trelinski is making an intellectual proposition that everyone, Des Grieux especially, has descended into some physiological underworld as the troubled Manon slips further away into eternity then it’s just too confusing to grasp.

Next would be the almost gratuitous use of fetishism and drug abuse to prop up Gerontes world of wealth and addiction. It might seem glamorous to some but was an issue that caused some actual audience complaint on the night.

PROMISCUOUS

The fallen Manon, who begins herself already looking like a sexually promiscuous women rather than a wild child on her on her way to the convent, ends up like Jane Mansfield with a substance problem. The fact she actually considers taking the blue shag rug with her when Des Grieux returns to steal her away to freedom is a good enough reason to say no to drugs in anyone’s book.

Everyone is committed to Trelinskis raunchy vision but the execution of it seems awkward with this mostly mature company. Thankfully in the gloom of these extremities there was some brilliant singing. Gwyn Hughes Jones provided an impassioned performance as Des Grieux keeping his acting to a controlled level. Chiara Taigi again provided some exquisite moments as Manon but at times the stumbling and theatrical gestures of indifference were too overplayed and at times comical.

Musically the evening was superbly handed by Conductor Lothar Koenigs who in contrast to the bleak set found the emotion in the score and resurrected the romance and edge in this Puccini’s first opera.

Whilst it must always be commended for providing a fresh approach to a production this all seems a little too far and disjointed.

Trelinski seems to have succumbed to the newly imagined physical trappings and surroundings of his characters rather than complexities they each face. The reliance on such a powerfully stark yet diverting visual approach makes it hard to find any compassion within the performance.  The inclusion of parading semi naked women may also support that sexist vision but in the in the end it is superfluous and downgrades the talent of this brilliant company. 

Also on 07-03-14

Jeff Grant 

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