Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Manon Lescaut

At last a concept production at the Wiener Staatsoper! I thought I wasn't going to get one. Apparently in Puccini's Manon Lescaut the road to perdition is paved with couture! High fashion will lead you to destruction.

The opening scene where Manon, De Grieux and Germonte all meet takes place in the street in front of a fashion house department store with large windows filled with mannequins dressed to the nines. Thin women in business suits walk by and ogle the outfits in the windows. Manon and De Grieux escape in a Mercedes sedan.

In the second act Manon is seduced by expensive outfits. She longs for both love (good) and fashion (evil). This scene takes place in Germonte's house, and the windows show a view of what might be Central Park.

The concept is best in the third act. Women's names are called to list the women who will be deported to America, thus beginning a parade of high fashion models in designer dresses with their hands handcuffed together in front. Each model does her catwalk strut across the stage, showing off her unique outfit, ending with the traditional wedding dress done in red. How many fetishes does this cover? High fashion leads to crime, prison and handcuffs.

Act IV takes place in the deserted set of Act I with the same windows full of couture. Manon is dying from lack of water, water clearly not provided by high fashion dresses. She dies declaring her love.

Production designer says to self, "I get to do opera productions, but darn, I never get to design my own fashion line. Manon Lescaut is my opportunity." My advice is don't give up your day job. The couture idea works well enough and is just short of completely irrelevant.

Manon Lescaut is Puccini's first big hit, his most lushly romantic opera with some of his most beautiful music, played beautifully by the orchestra of the Wiener Staatsoper under the direction of Miguel Gomez-Martinez.

Someday, perhaps soon, Anna will sing this and she will be able to do the supermodel strut, which our excellent soprano, Daniela Dessi, was not. She will also look delicious in the photography scenes. The opera seems to play out in front of the production without paying much attention to it.

In this production Manon sings the madrigal herself when the group of four backup singers appears. Sweet.

Advice for all of them: your voices are right for these roles, but you need to relax into the phrases. Let it flow more easily. The audiences in Vienna are very sophisticated and praise only the very best.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

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