* Notes *
Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Manon Lescaut opened with a matinee performance yesterday. The production, designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, was completely traditional, rather unlike the 2004 Der Fliegende Holländer, which was the last Lyric production to come here.
This production, taken as a whole, has been my favorite thus far this season, and I cannot say it is because of Puccini's music, which I do not find particularly lyrical. Puccini's third opera is chock-full of different musical ideas, features a bizarrely disjointed plot, but somehow it came together beautifully. Donald Runnicles conducted well and with great sensitivity, he will be sorely missed when his tenure ends in 2009. Karita Mattila's voice was ravishing in the title role, so sweet and girlish at the beginning and filled with desperation at the end. Tenor Misha Didyk also sang well as Des Grieux, passionately and with enough volume and control. However, his diction was not always clear. John Hancock (Lescaut) and Eric Halfvarson (Geronte) both seemed competent, both vocally and dramatically.
The most obvious flaw in the production was the minuet, the music was there, but the dance seemed to consist of Mattila making curtsies as everyone else sits in a circle around her. Mattila looked awkward in the whole of Act II, she holds her head a bit too forward and her movements seemed somewhat erratic. Manon is supposed to be bored, but the fidgeting was excessive.
* Tattling *
Stanford professor Giancarlo Aquilanti gave a somewhat maniacal talk before the performance, declaring that Puccini was politically incorrect and that Des Grieux was a loser. Definitely worth hearing, Aquilanti certainly wasn't dull. He talked over most of his musical examples and seemed entirely smitten with Puccini.
The opera house looked completely full, and there were no latecomers of note, people were much more well-behaved than usual. The only annoyance of the performance were a couple who got up in-between Acts III and IV to stretch their legs, even though there was no intermission at this point. This should have been clear from the program and from the fact that Runnicles was still in the pit, baton aloft. Unfortunately, they didn't return to their seats before the music began again, and the ushers did not allow them to sit. Thus, we in standing room were left to hear them complain aloud during the music.