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Manon Lescaut - Welsh National Opera UK Tour - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Modern adaptation but with risque scenes
It may be the historic, powerful operatic music of Puccini but it is hard to believe the soundtrack to this edgy, new production is not more modern.

The timeless overtures seems to fit in seamlessly with the 21st Century setting of neon nightclubs, a busy airport and digital screens.

Manon1
A modern, edgy performance of Manon Lescaut


Manon Lescaut is one of a trio of operas being performed as part of the Fallen Women season by the Welsh National Opera (WNO) that is currently touring the UK before heading off to Finland. It tours alongside Boulevard Solitude and La traviata, which all focus on women whose livelihoods depend on selling sexual favours.

Catching the show at Birmingham Hippodrome, it depicts a vacuous and luxury-obsessed Manon who beguiles and runs off with poor city commuter Des Grieux, but then deserts him for sinister sugar-daddy Geronte.

While the adaptation is clever and carefully transposed into a modern day setting, it is the scenes with Geronte that are the most questionable and raise a few eyebrows.

As bad guys go, the WNO has created a monster in Geronte as he surrounds himself with women in bondage and does distasteful, pornographic things to them. His even more scary colleague, who wouldn't look out of place as a James Bond villain, handles a golf club with extreme menace and clutches at a mannequin in ways that leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Meanwhile, a woman with barely a strap across her chest reveals practically all and makes the audience feel uncomfortable.

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Distasteful sexual scenes in Manon Lescaut


You could say that it is an accurate depiction of what a "Geronte" when Puccini created this masterpiece in 1892 would be by today's standards in 2014 - a distasteful greedy man who thinks he can buy women and then treat them appallingly for his own pleasures.

However, it may have pushed the boundaries too far for some.

Director Mariusz Trelinski, overseeing a production at a UK opera company for the first time, makes this opera exciting and harrowing at the same time.

Manon's ultimate downfall and humilation as a prisoner shows no mercy as the female prisoners are led out tottering and bound in front of hardfaced spectators. Trelinski definitely knows how to tap into the emotions.

There is always a bittersweet edge to the proceedings as our lovestruck hero Des Grieux moons around with hunched shoulders, haunted to the end by his obsession of Manon.

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Chiara Taigi as Manon is riveting


The wonderful tone of singer Gwyn Hughes Jones is a dream, while Italian singer Chiara Taigi in the lead role is also exceptional. They are supported by a strong chorus of suited commuters and air hostesses.

This production may bring Manon Lescaut right up to date and relevant to today, but it never overshadows the essence and music of Puccini's work. It's a refreshing new take on a classic.

Manon Lescaut is approx 2hrs 30 minutes including one interval. It is sung in Italian with surtitles in English.

Score: 7/10

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Sweet voices add sparkle to this opera


Manon Lescaut
Tickets cost from 10 to 48. People aged under-30 can get tickets for under 5 from the Welsh National Opera website.

Birmingham Hippodrome
Mar 5 and Mar 7

Milton Keynes Theatre
12 Mar - 14 Mar

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
19 Mar - 21 Mar

Theatre Royal, Plymouth
26 Mar - 28 Mar

Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales
2 Apr - 4 Apr

The Bristol Hippodrome
11 Apr

Olavinlinna Castle, Savonlinna, Finland
30 Jul - 1 Aug
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Why? A modern take on a classic opera
When: Touring in UK until April 11
Phone: 029 2063 5000
Where: UK Tour - Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Plymouth, Llandudno and
Cost: Tickets from 10
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