Manon by Jules Massenet, Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille, based on the novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost

Dates and Venue November 5, 6, 7 at 7.30pm & November 8 at 2.00pm | Old Auditorium, UBC

Manon Natascia Dell'erba Des Grieux Tony Caruso Count des Grieux Scott Brooks De Brétigny Ryan Hofman

Conductor Rosemary Thomson Director Nancy Hermiston Set Design Alessia Carpoca Lighting Designer Jeremy Baxter; with the UBCOpera Ensemble Chorus and members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra

In French with English Surtitles

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Great charm and considerable talent were on display in UBCOpera’s production of Manon, Jules Massenet’s luscious take on the Abbé Prevost’s novel. Natascia Dell’erba, (Manon) and Tony Caruso (des Grieux) were entirely convincing as the captivating, impetuous couple.

Dell’erba’s thrilling soprano bubbled with enjoyment but she also captured Manon’s vulnerability. Manon plays many parts in her own life story, entranced teen-ager, headstrong egoist, society queen, manipulator, seducer, crook and finally worn and exhausted prisoner. Dell’erba was at her best revelling in being the centre of attention promenading along the Cours-la-Reine. She was equally able to bring genuine tenderness to the touching “Adieu, notre petite table” and real pathos in the final scenes.

Caruso was a delight as des Grieux. His lyrical tenor captured all the animation, romance and tenderness of a very young man, beautifully expressed in the Dream Song, "En fermant les yeux". Moral purpose informed his brief incarnation as a priest before he succumbs once again to Manon’s allure. At the last, he expressed real grief and anguish.

They were ably supported by Jason Klippenstein as Manon’s cousin, Lescaut, who has good stage presence and a fine bass even if he appeared a little insecure in character development. Scott Brooks, covering for a sick cast member in the cameo role of Des Grieux’s father, exuded real authority and affection in equal measure. Ryan Hofman was a suave De Brétigny.

The three fun-loving “actresses” were brightly sung by Elizabeth Harris, Yeeun Lee and Keira Chapman. The highly talented UBCOpera Ensemble chorus were variously servants, travellers, villagers, gamblers and Parisians out for a day in the park. They were lively and responsive partners with the orchestra and formed a tableau against which the journey of the lovers was drawn.

The story is set in the opulent and gilded world of a gently libertine French society of the romantic past. Though there are darker forces at work, Massenet does not really explore them as he is more interested in expressions of love and unfulfilled dreams. The sheer beauty of his rich and sensuous score which infuses the world of the opera with a shimmering air of yearning was expressively played by the Vancouver Opera Orchestra under Rosemary Thomson.

The deliciously French set (Alessia Carpoca), marked by striped awnings and chequered cloths, was clean and straightforward, complementing Nancy Hermiston’s temperate, clear stage direction and sympathetic lighting by Jeremy Baxter. Scene changes were a little slow for an audience used to the more fluid practices of modern theatre.

This was a production of which UBCOpera can be proud. UBCOpera always presents two casts. Since most of this cast plays different roles in the alternate production it will undoubtedly be as well worth seeing.

© 2015 Elizabeth Paterson