Manon, Royal Opera House ballet review: Rich in depth but spark lacking in big duets

Royal Opera House, London

Marianela Nuñez’s Manon jumps out of the coach, young and fresh, with a sensuous pleasure in movement. Around her, the pimps and would-be clients circle. Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon is tale of corruption and glamour, with a heroine who picks diamonds over true love, only to end up dead in a swamp.

Manon, a worldwide hit, turns 40 this year. MacMillan created it for The Royal Ballet, which celebrates with a long run and upcoming debuts in the coveted leading role, including Russian superstar Natalia Osipova and one-to-watch Francesca Hayward.

On opening night, despite Nuñez’s charisma and power as an actress, there was a spark missing. Federico Bonelli is lyrical as Manon’s lover Des Grieux, but there’s not much chemistry between them. The big duets, which should be the heart of the ballet, need more risk and passion.

Nuñez shows us Manon’s fear of poverty. Deciding to leave Des Grieux for a rich protector, she luxuriates in the jewels and her own growing sexual power, but it’s grim pragmatism that pushes her over the edge. The Royal Ballet performance is brilliantly rich, every prostitute and beggar with their own life and story.

Until 1 November. Box office 020 7304 4000.