by Dwight Casimere
Roberto Alagna has become the "go to" tenor at the Metropolitan Opera. This month, he stepped in to save the day after famed tenor Jonas Kaufman withdrew from the Met's new production of Manon Lescaut, which opened February 12 to rave reviews. Fortunately, he had learned the role some years ago for a series of performances that were ultimately canceled. so he was able to assume the lead role of Chevalier Des Grieux in his role debut opposite super hot soprano Kristine Opolais in Puccini's passionate love story, Manon Lescaut. Saturday, March 5 at 1pm, audiences in 2,000 movie theaters in 70 countries around the world will have the opportunity to see this dynamic due in action when the opera will be transmitted worldwide as part of the Met's Live in HD Series.
With Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi in the pit as Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the production by British director Sir Richard Eyre, who previously staged Carmen in his Met debut in 2009, features set design by Rob Howell of London's National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Costumes are by Fotini Dimou, who also designed the costumes for the same production at the festival Hall Baden-Baden in 2013. Lighting designer Peter Mumford, also of London, has previously lit Met productions of Werther, Carmen, Peter Grimes, Faust Madama Butterfly (debut in 2006) and the 125th Anniversary Gala.
Choreographer Sara Erde of New York has worked as assistant stage director for the Met's Rigoletto, Madame Butterfly and La Donna del Lago.
Sir Rihard Eyre sets the action during the Nazi occupation of France in 1941, giving the production a bit of an historial edge, over its original setting in the salons and boudoirs of late 18th century France.
Manon Lescaut is a production that bristles with sensuality, fantastic singing and superb acting. Roberto Alagna gives a visceral performance as Lescaut's ardent lover, Des Grieux, who pursues her love even to the gates of hell. Although this is his first time playing the role on stage, it seems as if it were written for him. Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais sings the doomed heroine with abandon. The sexscenes between she and Alagna are among the most sensuous to ever play out on the Met stage. Opoplaise is also currently burning up the Met stage in her debut as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly.
The Met is in the midst of a sort of undeclared Puccini festival this season with productions old and new of La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Turandot either previously ended or returning for a spring run with new casting.
Met Live HD's offering last month was Puccini';s Turandot in a lavish production, which was transmitted Saturday, January 30 with an Encore Presentation February 3. Swedish Soprano Nina Stemme soared as the enigmatic Turandot, whose ruthless riddles spelled doom for her wealthy suitors who came from around the globe in search of her hand in marriage. Only brave Calaf, sung with force and conviction by Marco Berti, ultimately conquers the vengeful Turandot with his ardor. This was truly and inspired, eye-popping production.