Paris, Opéra Bastille:”Manon”

Parigi, Opéra Bastille, Stagione Lirica 2011/2012
Opéra comique in cinque atti e sei quadri, su libretto di Henri Meilhac e Philippe Gille, dal romanzo dell’Abbé Prévost
Musica di Jules Massenet
Le Chevalier Des Grieux GIUSEPPE FILIANOTI
Le Conte Des Grieux PAUL GAY
Guillot de Morfontaine LUCA  LOMBARDO
Orchestra e Coro dell’Opéra National de Paris
Direttore Evelino Pidò
Maestro del Coro Patrick Marie Aubert
Regia Coline Serreau
Scene Jean-Marc Stehlé, Antoine Fontaine
Costumi Elsa Pavanel
Luci Hervé Gary
Nuova produzione
Parigi, 25 gennaio 2012
The parameters of opera are difficult to coincide. When they do, opera is a miracle. But this mysterious wholeness eluded Coline Serreau’s Manon at the Bastille Opera. Undeniably, her experience in theatre and cinema brings much to the operatic stage: her stage directions had singers acting with conviction, focus and without pointless gesticulation. Each tableau was also visually pleasing. But weak links in the cast, needless provocation from Serreau herself, and understated conducting from musical director Evelino Pidò were factors which finally sabotaged this production.
Act I looked like a corner of the Gare du Nord. Guillot de Morfontaine, de Brétigny and three ladies (in 18th century costume) are screaming for food. Tenor Luca Lombardo (Guillot de Morfontaine), in his powdered wig, gave a fine performance as the aging beau. Poussette (Olivia Doray), Javotte (Carol García) and Rosette (Alisa Kolosova), all three fine singers, were hilarious here with their incessant cackling, finely echoed by the orchestra, as French waiters enter and relay food up a wide staircase to the restaurant. Lescaut and two friends, all three dressed as punks (?), have come to meet Manon.  Baritone Franck Ferrari (Lescaut) has resonance and fine tone, but in his punk garb, he seemed to be exaggerating. Manon arrives, not in a horse-drawn carriage, but in what looked like a Greyhound Bus. She looks appealing to Guillot de Morfontaine, de Brétigny and Des Grieux in her plain white dress. Baritone André Heyboer (De Brétigny) sang with a calculated coolness that reinforced his sinister nature. Des Grieux (Giuseppe Filianoti) has an unfortunate tendency to scoop to his top notes which makes him sing flat occasionally. Natalie Dessay in the title role seemed strangely absent. Often inaudible in the lower medium, her lines were not finely chiselled and her top uncontrolled, her voice even cracking several times. At the end of the act she left with Des Grieux on a motorbike…
In Act II, as Des Grieux sang of the paradise of domestic bliss with Manon, Serreau, unable to refrain from making little comments on the score, brings down an image of a 1950s American dream kitchen. A similar parenthesis occurs when Brétigny promises to turn Manon into a queen of Parisian society: a beauty crown and a sash marked “Miss Arras” drops from the gods. With these ironical asides, Coline Serreau seemed to be detaching herself from the work. A dangerous move when the cast is not up to scratch. It felt like a captain abandoning ship.
The first tableau of Act III was tighter both theatrically and musically. Jean-Marc Stehlé and Antoine Fontaine created a visually exciting set design for this hymn to late 19th century Parisian decadence: superb, towering tropical plants in a huge glass menagerie. Lescaut sang his “Rosalinde” aria to three bare-chested men dressed as women. Extras walked on as a fashion parade, all in black, white and gray geometric forms. Manon, dressed in the same colours, looked coldly elegant as her limbs are manipulated by sado-masochist male figures. Natalie Dessay was more comfortable in her two arias, Je marche sur tous les chemins and Profitons bien de la jeunesse, except for a very approximate high note at the end. The more intimate scene between Manon and the Chevalier’s father was musically satisfying. Pidò’s conducting had more focus here. Baritone-bass Paul Gay has a steady voice with a rich timbre and easy projection.
For the Saint-Sulpice tableau, the tropical plants simply turned to become the inner columns of the church.  The religious ecstasy and sensuality awakened by Des Grieux’s sermon, triggered eight prettily dressed Parisian women to move around the church on roller-skates. This off-beat idea of Serreau was rather beautiful. Filianoti sang his  aria “Fuyez douce image” with power, pathos and a respectable mastery of French. However, the famous duo with Manon was pedestrian. Neither singer was credible. The wonderful music, unable to take off, was constricted in a shoe-box format. Conductor Evelinò Pido limited collateral damage by keeping the orchestra together. But in doing so, he himself seemed to have no feel for Massenet rubato at all.
Act IV, the Transylvania Hotel, could have been an excerpt from some wacky musical comedy. Natalie Dessay looked like Annie Lennox. All she was missing was the microphone: in A nous les amours et les roses, we heard nothing in the low voice. A stage so crowded with punks, pirates and screwed up promissory notes made it hard to concentrate on the action. After the arrest of Manon and Des Grieux, the final act opened with a miraculous effect from lighting engineer Hervé Gray: the screwed up paper littering the floor of the Transylvania Hotel was turned into an image of overturned, frosty earth stretching to the horizon.  Coline Serreau instinctively brought cosmic images of sensuality and religion, of untamed and domestic energy to this performance, but no better than the original Manon Lescaut of Abbé Prévost. Here it was the Massenet Manon who was missing.
Photo Opéra national de Paris/ Elisa Haberer