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Lyrical clarity in AVA’s Manon

Helen Corning Warden Theater
04/26/2014 -  & May 1*, 3, 7, 10, 2014
Jules Massenet: Manon
Chloe Moore (Manon Lescaut), Diego Silva (Le chevalier des Grieux), Jorge Espino (Lescaut), Anthony Schneider (Le comte des Grieux/Innkeeper), Jeffrey Halili (Guillot de Morfontaine), Daniel Noyola (M. de Brétigny), Karen Barraza (Poussette), Julia Dawson (Javotte), Alexandra Schenck (Rosette)
The Academy of Vocal Arts Opera Theater Orchestra, Christofer Macatsoris (conductor)
Tito Capobianco (stage director), Peter Harrison (scenic design)

(© Paul Sirochman/AVA )

Manon Lescaut is being sent to the convent by her father, but instead is seduced by the possibility of Parisian decadence after her cousin introduces her to M. de Brétigny. When she meets the Chevalier des Grieux, it is love at first sight, or so they think. When push comes to shove, Manon trades love for Parisian luxury. Is she a gold digging vixen or just a poor cousin trying to make her way in French society? Does she truly love the Chevalier or is she using him? All of these questions are tossed up in the air in Jules Massenet’s opéra comique Manon.

Staged by Tito Capobianco at the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) and conductor Christofer Macatsoris, they craft the cameo-sized production in the AVA’s Helen Corning Warren Theater, it is nonetheless grand opera.

AVA is rotating the lead roles doubly impressive since these parts are so vocally demanding.

At the May 1 performance, Capobianco’s signature tight scene pacing is glitteringly apparent in every act. Macatsoris’ tempos crisp, but holding that lyrical French line in a score full of intricacies. Among the many standouts in the orchestra, the violin leads by Igor Szwec and Luigi Mazzocchi (Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra’s 1st violin) and the sonorous, yearning cellos of Vivian Barton Dozer and Douglas McNames.

Crucial to the story is the instant chemistry Manon has with the Chevalier as they steal away to Paris and have a night of lovemaking. The Chevalier’s father has different plans for him and des Grieux is soon dispatched, ironically, to a seminary, while Manon is diva-ing it up as a society ingénue. Des Grieux soon knows she has betrayed him for a shallow existence of money and position. But Manon is bored with her life and goes to the pleads with him to leave the seminary. He sheds his vestments, they return to Paris to indulge in casino life, but Manon has the game rigged and they are accused of cheating and ruined.

In the supporting cast, AVA alumnus (2006) Jeffrey Halili returns in fine comic form as the society buffoon Morfontaine, chasing women around, but switching on a dramatic dime when he thinks he’s being cheated at cards. Baritone Jorge Espino, a first year resident at AVA, has great stage presence and vocal control as Manon’s cousin. Karen Barraza, Julia Dawson and Alexandra Schenck make up the fine vocal trio primping in the ballroom around Manon. Anthony Schneider, as the senior Grieux, has a tempered basso that just engulfs the room.

As des Grieux, tenor Diego Silva gives a full-throated, calibrated and magnetic performance and it will be no surprise if he is in demand to sing this role on opera stages everywhere. Silva has palpable chemistry with the equally strong soprano Chloe Moore as Manon, their blended vocal power could stop a lion. Moore has a golden center upper range that she can unleash to unstable pitch, belying Manon's eventual despair.

Peter Harrison’s handsome production designs are miniature but opulent, and the period couture by Val Starr is voluptuous. When everyone is onstage, Capobianco knows how to choreograph the movement so everything has intent, everyone moves in character, in a way that is reminiscent of the art of silent film acting.

Lewis Whittington



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