Available until: 12th March 2021
Manon by Jules Massenet was first performed in 1884. It is based on a book, Manon Lescaut, which was published in 1731. It is not a story which you might expect to be very relevant to the 2000s, but I thought this production was very relevant. It is partly that people probably haven’t changed that much, it’s more that customs and beliefs have changed. But I think it is relevant in other ways too.
Part of the reason it made me think of modern times is because David Bösch has created a really modern production. A lot of the clothes the characters wear could be worn in the present day or at least in the recent past. There are some especially beautiful costumes in Act 3, which are designed by Falko Herold. Mr Bösch has also used lots of modern technology. I don’t know if the people in the opera house would have seen it in the same way as we did, but there are lots of pictures and videos. There are lots of cats too! They might have been projected onto the stage or maybe there really is a screen there which only looked like a screen when it was switched on to show the images. I sometimes prefer not to see video technology in operas if it’s set in the time it was written because video technology wasn’t part of that world, but in a more modern production like this, it works really well.
But Manon also reminds me of modern times because the story is similar to stories we hear all the time. It reminded me of all the young people who have plans for their future, just like Manon (though most of them will probably be going to university or getting a job, they won’t be going into a convent like Manon). But then a lovely, handsome man comes along and sweeps her off her feet. That definitely still happens in the present day.
Then Manon is attracted by the lure of being rich and this leads to her becoming quite well-known and having lots of admirers. This reminds me of all the people who want to be celebrities. They want to be rich and famous and loved by millions and they think it will be a very happy life. But a lot of them end up very unhappy and if they do find happiness again, it is often only when they give up on being famous and going back to a normal life. If the Press will let them. Being famous can destroy a person and I think in a way that’s what happens to Manon.
Elsa Dreisig is a really brilliant Manon. She has a really beautiful voice that is perfect for the role. She makes it sound like the role is easy for her to sing, though it probably isn’t. I think singing is too physical to be easy, even if you’re really good at it, and there is so much to think about, including the fact that she might have to keep singing for another hour. She acts the role really well too, showing Manon’s innocence at the beginning and then the change in her when she gets caught up in the bright lights, and then at the end, she shows she hasn’t lost the sweetness she had at the beginning, but she has experienced so much and learned so much and that has changed her.
Ioan Hotea is a lovely and romantic Des Grieux and his voice goes really well with Manon’s. Dimitry Ivashchenko is quite scary as his father. Björn Bürger and Daniel Kluge characterise Lescaut and Guillot brilliantly. They both seem maybe a bit silly, but a lot of fun. Some of what they do is actually quite funny and I don’t think that’s something I’ve ever noticed in Manon before, but it really works considering what they are singing about and where they are.
This production really has a little bit of everything and when they’re things you’re not expecting, it’s a really good surprise. And the final image is really wonderful.