Manon Lescaut, opera review: 'The unrelenting bleakness renders it flat'

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

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The Independent Culture

By any definition, the heroine of Puccini’s breakthrough opera, Manon Lescaut, epitomises the ‘fallen woman’, upon whom Welsh National Opera is focusing this season.

For director Mariusz Treliński, Manon is not merely an operatic cliché but a chimera; a male fantasy in a brutal, hedonistic and contemporary world. Borrowing heavily from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, Treliński aims to cut across Puccini’s sumptuous, emotive music to the corrosive hypocrisy at the heart of Prévost’s story.

So far so intriguing. Except that he doesn’t get there - or, at least, get the audience there. It’s not that the mafioso sleaze and S&M is shocking - clearly it’s meant to be voyeuristic - but that the unrelenting bleakness renders it all flat; just too contradicting of Puccini’s score, despite some brave singing and vivid musicianship from Lothar Koenigs’ excellent orchestra.

Vocally, Chiara Taigi gave a vampish Manon (slightly uneven) lyric pathos, whilst Gwyn Hughes Jones made an impassioned, bewildered Des Grieux. But they sang to the audience, not each other.

Stylistic gestures were grimly unmoving in a dark railway station with flashing city lights, although David Kempster and Stephen Richardson were a callous Lescaut and sinister Geronte respectively.