Manon Lescaut at Seattle — Two Reviews

Monday, January 17, 2005
An early, problematic Puccini work gets mostly successful reading by Seattle Opera
Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” which Seattle Opera has produced only sporadically in its 40-year history, is a work that goes in fits and starts. Moments of genuine inspiration and compelling drama mark the composer as a man of genius, but in this early opera, his talent is not always consistent. The demands on the tenor are notoriously difficult.
So, with its eyes wide open, the company mounted the third production in its history to bring in the new year Saturday night at McCaw Hall. It succeeded more than many efforts without breaking the bank, using conventional but serviceable sets and costumes from Montreal Opera.
Rooted to its place in time, Puccini’s “Manon” is a period piece that resists attempts to make it more contemporary or more visually alluring. Seattle Opera made no attempt dress up the piece to give it style or panache. It allowed those revelations of Puccini’s talent to flower, and when they did, they were given generous impetus.
One can readily criticize the jumbled libretto, the product of many hands, and the varied writing for singers. However, where Puccini was at his surest was in the orchestra, typically full-bodied and rich in details. Wisely, Seattle Opera asked an old hand at Puccini to preside in the pit, and he delivered the goods from the overture to the denouement.
[Click *here* for remainder of review.]

Leads deliver stunning debuts
By Melinda Bargreen
Seattle Times music critic
There’s only one way to make a success of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”: with impassioned singing actors who can make the audience believe the world is well lost for love.
Seattle Opera has just such a show with two singers, Carol Vaness and Jay Hunter Morris, making their career debuts in the leading roles. As Manon, Vaness brought decades of international stage experience to bear on a wholehearted, utterly committed performance. Vaness gave everything she had, redefining the concept of throwing oneself into a role, and the results were stunning.
From her opening scene to her last gasp, Vaness peeled the years away to become three different women. First was the slightly gauche, enthusiastic young girl en route to the convent, a girl who discovers love at first sight with the dashing young Chevalier des Grieux (Morris). Next came the bored, spoiled young mistress of the elderly Geronte (Arthur Woodley), still longing for her true love but unwilling to give up her newly acquired jewelry.
Finally, Vaness became the desperate, broken woman in exile, the one who declares that her sins will be forgotten, but never her love. Achieving these transformations would be a credit to any actress, but, of course, there is more than acting to opera.
[Click *here* for remainder of review.]