SF Opera's Manon Review

Sf-opera-manon-balloons* Notes * 
The latest Manon at San Francisco Opera is visually striking and has some fine singing and playing.

The opera hasn't been seen on the War Memorial stage since 1998, and Vincent Boussard's direction is a welcome departure from the very traditional stagings of the past.

The set (Act III, Scene 1 pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) seems to use the same shiny floor as seen in I Capuleti e i Montecchi five years ago, and has a similar wall in the background, but this one is curved with an uneven, slanted top. The direction produces some gorgeous images, the lighting is atmospheric and the play of shadows works very nicely. However, the acting, especially for our two leads, can feel stilted and bloodless. There was even a cringe-worthy moment at the end of Act III, Scene 2 when Des Grieux tears open his cassock and shirt out of passion for Manon, which garnered both gasps and giggles.

The much of the other acting and singing was charming. Monica Dewey (Poussette), Laura Krumm (Javotte), and Renée Rapier (Rosette) were adorable together, very minxish and almost sounded like Rheinmaidens. It is no surprise that mezzos Krumm and Rapier will both be in San Francisco Opera's Ring next summer. Tenor Robert Brubaker was perfect as lascivious Guillot de Morfontaine. His eager skips across the stage in pursuit of the ladies had a cuteness, and his anger at being snubbed by Manon is believable. Baritone David Pershall also had an attractive roguish quality as Lescaut, and a pleasant enough voice.

Vocally, our lovebirds sparkled. Soprano Ellie Dehn has a beautiful voice that has a lightness but is also seems deeply rooted and resonant. Her Manon glittered, from beginning to end. Michael Fabiano sang Des Grieux with a lot of power, and his voice is also very lovely from top to bottom.

Maestro Patrick Fournillier had the orchestra in hand, the music sounded clear without being square. The chorus shone, sounding very strong and cohesive.

* Tattling * 
Though I only arrived at 7pm, I got standing room ticket 18. It was easy to find a place at the rail downstairs. This may have been the first opening performance I've attended at San Francisco Opera this year, and I saw many familiar faces in the audience.

There were some noisy latecomers during Act I, but for the most part the audience was pretty quiet, though there was some electronic noise from devices from time to time.

Manon at Opera San José

Manon-san-jose * Notes * 
Opera San José's new season opened with Manon last night. The orchestra sounded clean under the baton of Joseph Marcheso. On the whole, the intonation was spotless and the soli from the woodwinds and strings were particularly nice. The organ did have a rough entrance at the beginning of Act II. Dianna Shuster's production was uncomplicated, though the part where Manon gets Des Grieux attention by hopping up on a bench and walking back and forth for entirely too long was somewhat silly. The costumes and set all looked perfectly reasonable given this opera.

The singing was even, and the singers well-matched. Silas Elash had a lot of power as the elder Des Grieux. Krassen Karagiozov was a slippery, evasive Lescaut. Alexander Boyer (Des Grieux) had some pleasant warmth, though his voice did sound a bit compressed at the top. Khori Dastoor looked lovely in the title role, her voice is icy and metallic without being too abrasive. She sang "Adieu, notre petite table" prettily. Her accent in French was somewhat noticeable, though this was true of most of the cast overall.

* Tattling * 
There were some murmurs during the music, but no electronic noise. The ovation at the end was quite effusive, despite some audience attrition at the two intermissions.

Lyric Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.

Press Release [PDF] | Lyric Opera Site

Manon is not nice.

We went to see Manon at Opera San Jose. It was very small and pretty as a production, with clever and simple sets. The opera had speaking parts in French, which I did not anticipate. It was especially strange when the audience clapped after these parts, as if it had been some wonderful aria. This only really happened in Act III, which had me very confused as it was, since they took out the first scene of it. Act III is supposed to start off in a park at the Cours-la-Reine, where Manon learns that Des Grieux has become an abb, and only later does the scene change to the sacristy at St. Sulpice. At any rate, French spoken by American opera singers is considerably worse than French sung by said singers. Or at least, the accent is more obvious.

Manon was played by Sandra Rubalcava, who had a nice voice that was occasionally shrill, but mostly just in Act I. She was wonderful in her aria "Adieu, notre petite table" in Act II and at L'Htel de Transylvanie in Act IV. The music was pretty, but not very memorable, though there were very pleasant overtures for all the acts. The word "Manon" was used an incredible amount. The character of Manon says her own name many times, and her dying words are "Et c'est l l' Manon Lescaut!"

I enjoyed that the San Jose Opera asks its patrons to please unwrap their candies before the performance begins. This was not terribly effective, however. Apparently, I have very sensitive hearing, because a lady sitting next to my pesky friend was unwrapping and eating candies for the first ten minutes of the opera, and I could hear not only the cellophane wrapper noise, but the clicking of the candies against her teeth. She had eaten about five candies before I asked her as politely as I could to desist. I also received a scathing look in the ladies' room from a middle-aged lady putting on her makeup. Her friend was gushing about how gorgeous the lady in question was, and I merely glanced up at her in the mirror, and was met by the most caustic of looks. It was very entertaining. I must remember to be so pleasant when I get older.