Operagasm Exclusive Review: Opera Company of Philadelphia’s Manon Lescaut
by Jessica Lennick
I have a confession to make: I am a Massenet Manon kind of girl. The story of Manon is, at its heart, a story of the excesses of Paris and how it uses up the youth of one exceptionally pretty girl. So, it’s basically every 18th century French story ever written. Wednesday night’s Manon Lescaut at Opera Company of Philadelphia was my first live viewing of Puccini’s telling of this particular tale.
Let me tell you, OCP definitely got the “exceptionally pretty” part of this tale right. Michelle Johnson and Thiago Arancam were an absolutely gorgeous spectacle throughout the evening. Both of them are talented young artists who clearly deserve the accolades they’re getting. Johnson in particular is absolutely luminous—I could practically hear Peter Gelb ordering her first HD broadcast in the background when she stepped onstage. The costumes cannot be described with any word other than “delicious”. From the sumptuous blue cape and gown Johnson arrives in onstage for the first time, to the foppish, elaborate coats of Daniel Mobbs’ Geronte, the costuming never stepped a foot wrong. Other than some hiccups I discuss below, the lighting was gorgeous as well. Particularly the love duets in Acts I and II were lit spectacularly and effectively removed Des Grieux and Manon into their own beautiful world.
I wish I could be as effusive about the staging. Given the rapturous reviews it has received elsewhere, I am quite possibly alone in this opinion, but there were a number of problems that should have been fixed by the time I saw Manon. Four performances into a run is too late for a production to still be experiencing visible problems with follow spots or the various moving pieces of the set. And a convention that other reviewers found affecting—separating Manon and Des Grieux in the final scene as she dies and having her deliver her last lines from center stage while Grieux looks on from a distance—left me completely alienated from the action just as I wanted to be wholly wrapped up in it. Conceptually, the staging was lovely. The sets were beautiful, and some of the trappings of Manon’s luxurious life in Act II come back to haunt her in the wreckage of Act IV, which I thought was a lovely touch.
More accolades must go to the Geronte of Daniel Mobbs. (Full disclosure: I have worked with him before and he is absolutely lovely in person.) Mobbs is a tremendous singing actor—every inflection of his eyebrow seemed to tell a tale—and his lovely, rich baritone was never in danger of being swallowed up by the sometimes-too-enthusiastic orchestra. He filled the space beautifully with both his presence and his sound. Troy Cook was also a stand-out. The role of Lescaut can sometimes be unforgiving in its caddishness, but Mr. Cook was a complicated and very sympathetic rogue of the first order, and has a first-rate voice to boot.
Soprano Jessica Lennick “is a complete package, including a terrific smile and stage presence to go along with her pleasing voice” according to The Baltimore Examiner. She is excited to return to the Caramoor Festival this summer where she will open the season as the Soprano Soloist in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and cover the role of Giulietta in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. She is looking forward to returning to the Maryland Choral Arts Society as soloist for their 2012 performance of Vaughan-Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” after singing the Brahms Requiemwith them in 2010.
In the spring of 2011 she reprised her role as Die Königin in Die Zauberflöte with Ohio University as a visiting artist. In 2010 she also had the delight of performing Adina in L’elisir d’amore four times in one year in Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore. 2010 also saw her role debuts as First Lady and Papagena in Magic Flute, and Spirit in Dido and Aeneus with Center City Opera Theater; Blonde in Enthführung aus dem Serail with Chesapeake Chamber Opera; and Gretel with DC Camerata.
A champion of new music, she premiered the role of Patrick Leahy in the Gonzales Cantata, as well as Gonzales composer Melissa Dunphy’s new song cycle, “Tesla’s Pigeon”. A veteran of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, she also premiered the role of Angeline in Crowded House in 2010 and was delighted to make her third Philly Fringe appearance last fall as part of “Love Lost,” a program of all contemporary music. In April she will debut a new song cycle by Tony Solitro for the Upenn Composer’s Guild.