The Evening Standard, 19 June 2014
Barry Millington
Puccini: Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House London, June 17, 2014
'Jonas Kaufmann delivers a thrilling performance'
Sex is in the air as the opera gets the red light treatment
Exhibiting qualities from each of the Three Tenors — Pavarotti's gleaming tone, Carreras's good looks, Domingo's dramatic presence — Jonas Kaufmann is justifiably lauded as the outstanding tenor of our day. In Jonathan Kent's new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut he delivers a thrilling performance that satisfies both musically and theatrically.

The opera’s Manon is a woman of loose morals who falls foul of a rich patron and the authorities; transported to America, she dies in the arms of her lover Des Grieux (Kaufmann’s character).

The first act of Kent’s staging, updated with the help of Paul Brown’s ingenious sets to modern times, takes place inside and outside a party, with sex in the air and young revellers including Des Grieux and Manon flirting. Act two moves to a film set caricature of a boudoir, Manon having changed from print dress and denim top into a frilly pink number with long white socks.

Her audience is a row of balding critics. Just as the tone of Puccini’s Act three darkens, so Kent relocates to an Amsterdam-style red light district where the girls are, however, sex slaves, trafficked abroad by pimps. One might question whether such a Manon could ever have been “bound for a convent” and why Des Grieux is unable to rescue her by calling the police. It’s a powerful updating nevertheless, reminding us that the marketing of sexual services is alive and well in the 21st century.

Kristine Opolais in the title role is a worthy partner for Kaufmann; her transformation from innocent girl to mature woman is remarkable. Christopher Maltman’s subtly sleazy Lescaut and Maurizio Muraro’s commanding Geronte are also admirable, as is Antonio Pappano’s conducting.

Kent was greeted by boos at his curtain call, presumably by sections of the audience who would prefer to keep the real world out of the opera house. They should go home and look up “verismo” in the musical dictionary.

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