January 15 to February 13 2009
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Opera Australia have scheduled only eight performances of this charming Stuart Maunder production of Jules Massenet's tuneful opera about a rather giddy young girl tempted away from a life in a convent, when she falls in love with a young chevalier, Des Grieux, who she meets at a coachhouse on the way to the convent. Manon runs away to Paris with Des Grieux, but it is not long before a decadent nobleman promises her a life of luxury as a courtesan and she leaves Des Grieux. Heartbroken Des Grieux decides to join the priesthood, as you do.
However after a few years Manon tires of the high life, the parties, the pretty dresses and jewels, and decides to visit the seminary where Des Grieux is just about to take his final vows. She persuades Des Grieux to run away with her and to gamble the last of his inheritance at the casino. When Des Grieux is accused of cheating, there is a scuffle and Manon and Des Grieux are arrested. Manon is sentenced as a prostitute for deportation to the colonies, and although Des Grieux tries to rescue her, it is too late, and she dies in his arms on the road .
Although this particular production was premiered by Opera Australia in 2004, this is the first opportunity I've had to see it, and it was fascinating to see it so soon after seeing Puccini's treatment of the same story in his opera "Manon Lescaut", which Opera Australia's presented last year in a terrific production, directed by Gale Edwards which starred Cheryl Barker as Manon. I had also seen the gorgeous ballet "Manon" choreographed by Kenneth McMillan and presented by the Australian Ballet at the end of 2008, in which Amber Scott danced the wayward heroine. The ballet also used Massenets music, but not the music he wrote for the opera.
Stuart Maunder's production of "Manon", earned him a Helpmann Award nomination, and it's easy to see why. Its everything one could wish for in a night out at the opera...crisp, witty direction, gorgeous sets and costumes, again by Roger Kirk who also designed "Manon Lascaut", and a handsome cast who looked and sounded as though they had been born to play the roles.
Absolutely captivating as Manon, Amelia Farrugia looked superb, sang gloriously and acted with confidence and flair. Also in great voice, Julian Gavin made a handsome, dashing Des Grieux., while Jose Carbo was excellent as Manon's brother. Kanen Breen added another unforgettable characterisation to his repertoire as the effete nobleman Guillot de Morfontaine. Jacqueline Dark, Taryn Fiebig, Amy Wilkinson and Richard Anderson all added strength to the production, as did Stephen Bennet as De Grieux's dignified father.
However, you'll have to be quick to catch this production as it ends on Saturday 13th February.
Broadcast in "Dress Circle" on Artsound.. Sunday 7th February.