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Your reaction: Manon Lescaut

What did you think of Jonathan Kent's new production of Puccini's first great success?

By Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products)

17 June 2014 at 11.15pm | 95 Comments

Manon Lescaut runs 17 June–7 July 2014. Limited numbers of tickets are still available.
The production is generously supported by Rolex, with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mrs Philip Kan, Marina Kulishova, Mrs Trevor Swete, Quentin Holland, Mercedes T. Bass, Bruce Kovner, the American Friends of Covent Garden and The Manon Lescaut Production Syndicate.

The production will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on 24 June 2014. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list

By Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products)

17 June 2014 at 11.15pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged American Friends of Covent Garden, by Jonathan Kent, comments, Jonas Kaufmann, Kristine Opolais, Manon Lescaut, Production, twitter, your reaction

This article has 95 comments

  1. Ken Worthy responded on 18 June 2014 at 9:56am Reply

    The music and the singing were terrific, but the production was terrible. The decadence was way over the top, and the soprano looked ridiculous in the outfit she was requred to wear. It was also difficult to see why a trek across a featureless desert ended in what appeared to be a broken motorway bridge. The production team were rightly booed when they came on stage.

  2. Claire Isoz responded on 18 June 2014 at 9:57am Reply

    Act I was passable then it was downhill all the way. I spent Act IV on tenterhooks wondering whether Manon was going to slide off the unfinished (?) road and irritated by her voluptuous breasts protruding all too often. Who on earth decided to leave her in the soft porn outfit for the supposedly tragic ending? This was not a shocking production but an immensely silly one, the most ludicrous moment being the 'old man' pulling of his mask to reveal a dashing Kaufmann. This production was a great opportunity lost and sadly we shall be stuck with it for years. The cast sang valiantly and Jonas Kaufmann was truly magnificent.

    • Miriam responded on 19 June 2014 at 10:34am

      I was at the dress rehearsal and I felt the same, I could not feel moved by Act IV because none of it made sense and I was worried she would fall off. I know a lot of people in both Stalls Circle and rear Amphitheatre had sightline problems in seats that are not supposed to be restricted view, which given the generally high prices is inexcusable.

      I had booked for a performance as well, but I have taken the ticket back.

  3. Ditlev responded on 18 June 2014 at 10:04am Reply

    As one would expect from the Royal Opera House, there was some very fine conducting and singing in this new production but unfortunately the quality of the staging let the evening down. Perhaps after being criticised for am excessively old-fashioned Tosca, Jonathan Kent felt the need to prove his theatrical credentials but he failed to develop a sufficiently consistent narrative or visual concept in order to update this story. Surely in order for the story of Manon Lescaut to be credible and moving, the events needs to be set in a time and place where there is a strong contrast between traditional values and a decadent urban setting which threatens these, otherwise why would Manon be sent to a convent by her family and then eventually exiled to America for prostitution and theft? Contemporary Paris - certainly the one represented by Jonathan Kent - is hardly an apt match for these, as became increasingly apparent when Manon and several other women are punished in the third act, whilst they are being filmed by the media. Why would they be sent to America? Is this actually a prison, and if so, why wasn't this made more obvious? The image of Manon's naive dreams being punctured as she walked through a billboard was a crude metaphor which further confused the picture at the very point when the story needed clarifying. And where exactly is the last act supposed to take place? A basically realistic staging now takes us to a post-industrial highway which is accompanied by the most cheap looking, crudely painted screen of the Louisiana desert which appears to have been borrowed from a school production. What kind of narrative trajectory is Kent trying to pull us along? I don't object to a director taking liberties with details of the libretto, but surely this is only justified if they can find an alternative context which dramatises the tensions of the story as vividly as the original one? Doubtless the idea was to bring home the contemporary resonances of the story, but I was instead left thinking of all the ways in which it DIDNT translate to a contemporary Parisian setting. There are plenty of modern locations which might have worked more effectively than this Western European one, but perhaps the director was anxious of causing offence? A co-production with Shanghai probably shouldn't draw attention to the extensive sex trade and human rights abuses in contemporary China, but doubtless there are other less controversial locales he might have chosen.

    Other problems with this staging are more basic. The singers are evidently under-directed (except in the sex scene) and Kaufmann and Opolais spent far too much time standing around aimlessly (on the stairwell and elsewhere) when they should have been reacting to each other. The stage picture is muddled in the first act and again in the fourth Kaufmann was left to stand around awkwardly whilst Opolais sang her final aria. This was also one moment when the soprano should have been given the luxury of being right in the sweet spot of the theatre, to help project her voice over the massive orchestration which defines the opera's emotional climax. This opera is famously elliptical, but too often I felt the director lacked the strong vision which was required to cover these cracks and pull the audience along Manon's downward trajectory.

  4. Barbara responded on 18 June 2014 at 10:38am Reply

    Where do I start... this production got progressively worse. Act 1 looked like the inside of an aircraft hangar with a spiral staircase where our protagonists wandered aimlessly up and down. Act 2 was apparently set in a bordello, and I really felt for Kristine Opolais having to lounge about in that ghastly outfit only fit for a whore.

    My companion decided to leave at the interval, and this proved a wise decision, as things actually got worse in Acts 3 + 4.

    The embarking-on-the-ship scene was most peculiar - the trollops being herded behind a broken billboard depicting another trollop and the word 'naïveté'. If you didn't know the story you'd not have had a clue as to what was going on.

    As for the death scene: we had the ugliest piece of a broken freeway imaginable, all broken concrete and twisted steel, high up on an otherwise empty stage. No clues as to why the two lovebirds were there, perched precariously, with des Grieux looking helpless, tormented and confused, and Manon taking forever to snuff it.

    Kasper Holten seems to be hell-bent on commissioning productions that I'll never want to see again.

    The singing was fine - no complaints there.

    NB: I agree with the Twitter comment about the left-stage sightline problems. An all too common issue nowadays

  5. Enrique responded on 18 June 2014 at 12:00pm Reply

    I agree with Ditlev entirely. The problem with disliking this production is that one becomes immediately liable to being accused of old fashioned. I'm actually quite keen on updating Manon Lescaut, but we need some consistency. Some ideas:

    1. During the occupation of France by the Nazis, Manon cozies up to the invading army. When France is liberated, she suffers the fate of many collaborators, is beaten up and abandoned to die in a forest with the only support of Des Grieux, a local who's too in love with her to leave her alone. A version of the above in Nazi Germany where she ends up in a concentration camp could work too.

    2. Ultra-Christian America (mormons, maybe) - Manon moves to NYC and becomes addicted to drugs (a vice for which she needs money, which leads her to become a prostitute). She ends up either in a NYC alleyway or in a rehab centre, in both scenarios with the support of Des Grieux. In the former, she dies from the injuries of having being beaten up. In the latter, act 4 is her methadone-induced hallucination

    3. Eastern Europe, nowadays. A rural Manon ends up in the company of the wrong sort - she leaves the country illegally as part of a prostitution ring (what used to be called "white slave trade").

    I think that presenting Manon as a drug addict helps because it's the only way, I think, in which a contemporary girl can become so trapped. Otherwise, it's not so credible.

    Anyhow, just a few ideas. Whoever takes them up should be an awful lot more rigorous than Mr Kent has been

  6. Mike Fardon responded on 18 June 2014 at 5:19pm Reply

    A wonderful singing performance crowned by a spellbinding Act IV from Kaufmann and Opolais. After a while one fortunately forgot the dramatic entrance of Manon in a people carrier and the finale apparently on a section of the Hammersmith flyover. Something about the willing suspension of disbelief? But why, oh why? Let the music speak.

  7. Sam responded on 18 June 2014 at 5:37pm Reply

    I was there last night and thought it was largely outstanding. I've been thinking about the production most of today and the more I think about it the more I like it and think it works - and I already liked it at the time. I think its faithful to the text and raises a lot of interesting questions about superficiality, money, power, modern society etc. Perhaps act 3 was a little confusing but perhaps I simply need to see it again. In any case, this paragraph taken from blogger 'A Room with a view' sums up my feelings better than I can myself - "By styling Manon as a courtesan of this age, modelled on nearly every WAG that has 'written' an expose of an autobiography, Kent raised some uncomfortable questions. Grumbles of misogyny and tastelessness could be readily heard during the interval - but even the original Puccini production intended Act II to be chauvinistic and discriminative. It enacts a certain power play between man and woman. Manon, in any of her operatic or balletic incarnations, was never intended to be an innocent, wide-eyed ingenue. She is also playing the game for compliments, jewels, her pretty glass house. A traditional production puts the courtesan in a situation we have come to lushly romanticise - but Kent's production throws the courtesan into a discomfortingly modern prospective."

    • Jonathan Sydenham responded on 18 June 2014 at 9:26pm

      I completely agree with you. Every detail of this production makes sense if you take a minute to think about it.

  8. Shona Rawson responded on 18 June 2014 at 9:55pm Reply

    The singing was first class, and the orchestra was in fine form. Maestro Pappano had everything under his masterful hand. But the production was often senseless. Anyone who knows the libretto, will know that a boat is required for the exile; Des Grieux is assigned a role as cabinboy. So where does the dancing master, the minuets, the madrigal enter into a bordello? I found this production irritatingly distracting and was not surprised to hear booing.

  9. francois responded on 19 June 2014 at 12:04am Reply

    Ackward "conceptual" production (and difficulty to understand what happens at Act III...), but spectacular sets and excellent directing. This production succeeds in creating electricity, emotional peaks, exactly what I'm looking for when I attend a Puccini opera.
    Kaufmann is outstanding, really amazing, probably his best performance at the ROH, Excellent cast globally, and Pappano's Puccini is a marvel.
    But I would hardly imagine a revival of this production without the same cast, as Kent's concept could not work without such a glamourous, physically credible and charismatic couple.

  10. Michael responded on 19 June 2014 at 3:33am Reply

    Exquisite and outsanding singing from both lead singers. Papano and the ROH orchestra in glorious form. One of the great evening of singing this year . Without a doubt Kaufmann gave us a performance as Des Grieux that will become legendary in a few years. The sort of evening that one will be able to say that he was there the first time Kaufmann sang this extremely demanding role.
    A well deserve BOOO to the director of this terrible production. I know that Mr Holten thinks that it is important to keep challenging the audience but maybe most of your audience would prefer to be less challenged and would just enjoy sitting at the Opera House and be overwhelmed by glorious music and singing without having to look at the complete destruction of an opera libretto by director that thinks that the more they will shock the better they will be famous.
    I have seen some extremely interesting modern productions at the ENO and at the Met in the last few years but all of them respected the libretto of the opera.
    I am sorry but Manon Lescault meets Anna Nicole didn't work last night for most of your audience.

  11. Catherine responded on 19 June 2014 at 8:41am Reply

    I loved this new production (I think). I have found it thought provoking over the last few days. I am undecided about the sexual politics of the porn film scenario of Act 2. I thought at the time that this detracted from the music and the overall dramatic 'arc' of the whole opera and still do have this feeling. Having said that, it was refreshing to be challenged and need to think through my own reaction to it all. The orchestra and singing were both superb. I found Act 4 sets very confusing - a western desert backdrop, mention of the 'great plain' and interminable climbing up and down of the traffic light, the highway turning into a bed of sorts (did this really happen?) were all distracting. Overall I thought the sets were a little overpowering but interesting. The boorish boos at the end for the production team were very swiftly answered by louder cheers and 'bravi' (pl?) from a seemingly equal number of patrons who clearly loved the production . . .

  12. Philip responded on 19 June 2014 at 9:37am Reply

    I saw the final dress rehearsal last Saturday and was disappointed on so many levels. We've waited a long time for this opera to reappear and in anticipation, I have booked it for the cinema and a second full production at the House. But I regret that decision.
    It is not the singing or the playing, both of which were good at the rehearsal although it took Kaufmann a little while to warm into the role. But the sets and the staging; from the ugly hotel with the seemingly obligatory spiral staircase in act 1 (and if you are sitting high in the Amp, it looks like the singers have been decapitated) to the glass box of Act 2 (the one which seems to come out in every new production and looked horrible in this one). The third act deportation was bizarre and the final act "at the end of the road" did not look like Louisiana or New Orleans, it looked like San Fran after an earthquake.
    With the new Ballo next season, goodness only knows what they'll do with that. Perhaps have everyone sitting on a toilet in the opening scene as was the case in the ENO production many years ago, the one which convinced me that I'd had enough. Personally looking forward to the "Leave Opera Alone" evening where Mr Holten will hopefully come to understand what he is doing to this great opera house.

  13. Veronica responded on 19 June 2014 at 12:35pm Reply

    I agree with the majority of the commentators here and elsewhere, Act II was one of the worst things I ever saw on stage. It deserved the booing.
    It is fine to bring modern elements or move the opera into the modern day as long as the staging still corresponds to the music. This time it was not the case. Puccini's courtesan is certainly not a vulgar porn diva and the magic of the music is lost entirely when one looks at this pink craziness, so I just stopped looking.
    As for Opolais, I am surprised at the positive reviews. In my opinion, she was weak and out of voice in Act I and II (although in the second act who could overcome the disaster of the staging?) and not moving in the last, her voice was either too quiet or too shrill, very disappointing. In my opinion, she also could not match Kaufmann in dramatic performance.

  14. Sam responded on 19 June 2014 at 1:17pm Reply

    I should like to add, that I thought the booing was completely disgraceful, whatever one thinks of the production. Any art form owes its existence to experimentation and creativity, and without this creativity there would never have been a Manon Lescaut to perform in the first place. To boo is to essentially to say "you should be banned from doing things in a way which doesn't fit with my preconceived ideas about how things should be done." Such actions may have had a place in Stalin's Russia but I would have hoped not at Covent Garden. Would those booing this feel similarly justified rioting at the Paris premiers of the Rite of Spring or Tannhauser, both now well-loved and established works?

    The very nature of a creative pursuit means that sometimes things will fail, sometimes things will succeed. I happened to feel that Jonathan Kent achieved much success, but at least one person I respect greatly disagreed. That's all fine, as disagreement is also an integral part of creativity. I don't think I know anyone who would ever boo a production though - if you don't like it, just don't clap, or if you hate it that much, leave. People work very hard to make their visions for the production come to life, and if enough people subject them to attack in this way, one could hardly blame them if they one day simply decided it wasn't worth it. And then we should be left with nothing.

    • lizbie responded on 19 June 2014 at 4:15pm

      Perhaps they were booing because, owing to the fact that everything took place behind the proscenium arch, and two major scenes took place extremely high up on platforms, they simply could not see?

  15. naomi layish responded on 19 June 2014 at 6:09pm Reply

    I do not object to innovative productions, but I believe Kaspar Holten to be a disaster: pretentious, ignorant and musically illiterate. Unfortunately singers do not rebel (Furlanetto an exception).
    I also blame Pappano for his gullibility as musical director. (That spiral staircase was clearly borrowed from the Massenet Manon-much aimless wandering there too, though production bearable). Shame on both of them.

    • Geoff responded on 20 June 2014 at 2:26pm

      Sorry Naomi, not sure what you mean. This production was not directed by Kasper Holten but by Jonathan Kent (a distinguished man of the theatre unlikely to have been taking instructions on what to do from The Royal Opera's Director of Opera). Are you confused or have I missed your point? Not seen the show myself, just trying to understand your forceful comments.

  16. Michael responded on 20 June 2014 at 3:36am Reply

    In reply to Sam

    I have been attending the Royal opera House for the last 20 years. I have seen some wonderful productions and also some less interesting ones. This was actually the first time in all these years that i have booed a director.This is London my friend not Putine's Russia. If the paying audience felt the need to boo you can disagree entirely but please spare us the lecture on creativity. I am like many others open to updating opera but feel that many opera houses around the world right now are just trying to stage outrageous new productions just to create a publicity storm for absolutely no reason. By wanting to attract a new audience they are slowly loosing the one that has been faitful to them during all these years.I am quite proud of the London audience that did booed last tuesday . Bravi to all those who expressed there opinion.
    And that my friend is called freedom of speech...

  17. I would contrast the Manon production with the Dialogue of the Carmelites as examples of less is more. Robert Carsens production was stunning because of its simplicity. Manon was incoherent because of directorial pretention. The Puccini libreto is weak with big gaps and the director's task is to clarify. In this case jonathan kent and his designer did the reverse. Again like the Onegin of last season we have have spent vast amounts ons a production that no one will wish to see revived.
    On another point, as some one with a seat in the stalls circle, are the director and designer not forced to take account of the House's sight lines and acoustics?it would seem to me a fairly basic consideration in any "directoral concept" ( or conceipt) Visually and acoustically having singers perched up high as in the 1st and last acts, creates 100s of seats that are effectivley obscured.

  18. Derek Wilson responded on 20 June 2014 at 11:09pm Reply

    Kaufmann and Opolais were excellent despite the ludicrous direction given them. Pappano and the orchestra performed to the high standards expected of them. However the direction, sets, modern setting and everything else unrelated to the music was a lamentable misjudgement on the part of Kent. The second act, offensive and embarrassing as it was, only led to more absurdities in the third (what was the point of the gantry descending to obscure the rest of the set, for no apparent reason) and the final set was monumentally crass leaving the singers to emote 5 metres above ground ( I should have loved to been sitting in on the Health and Safety Committee that cleared that one). Overall a great disappointment, a great musical performance ruined by outrageously poor direction, mad even.

  19. Adam in Hackney responded on 21 June 2014 at 12:02am Reply

    I saw it tonight and thought it was extraordinary and bold. Act II was extremely uncomfortable to watch, but essentially this just makes the opera more relevant to us as an audience - we can't really pick up the shame and potential for social castigation that were consequences of being overly lewd, flirtation or dancing with too much passion for women in the 19th century.
    Sure, sometimes it was hard to immediately make sense of the staging, but why not use opera to explore sexual exploitation of women and sex trafficking.
    I'd rather be challenged than sit through overly traditional and cautious productions, and I applaud this one. I can't agree with the earlier person who said they were proud of the people who booed, but some opera goers have somewhat inflated views of their own importance.

  20. Of course Holten did not produce Manon
    Lescaut. However, he is director of productions and has to design or approve them. From the outset, his
    choices have been disastrous. Did you see the appalling Don Giovanni (that last scene!) And the glass boxed heroine in La Donna del Lago (an over abstruse explanation for that surely lost on most of the audience, while Manon Lescaut is aimed at the most ignorant) Pappano is overall music director, and should recognise the abuse of the libretto . Opera is (or should be) accessible to anyone with a rudimentary musical sense;
    updating is fine if the libretto is respected.
    The critics are also to blame since the
    'production' is usually reviewed first.
    'Prima la musica' for gods sake.!

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 21 June 2014 at 7:28pm

      Did you see 'Die Frau' or 'Les vêpres siciliennes'? Didn't they do it for you?

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 22 June 2014 at 10:29am

      What on earth are you on about? Mr Holten doesn't have to 'design' each production. 'Disastrous'? Really? Didn’t ‘Les vêpres siciliennes’ win an Olivier Award this year for Best New Opera Production? That's ‘disastrous’?

  21. naomi layish responded on 21 June 2014 at 8:43am Reply

    To Sam: May I correct you on two points?

    Firstly: booing. If you don't approve of the audience reacting, then you can't allow applause or shouts of 'bravo'. It's all part of opera as a popular art.

    Secondly: the protests at the 'Rite of Spring' and other works in a new and unfamiliar style were primarily against the music, which the audience was finding it difficult to listen to. We now consider them philistines. The problem with the current Royal Opera productions is that its directors seem sure that the audience thinks opera boring and 'elitist' . Hence they commission sensational , trendy productions which will bring in the crowds.

  22. caroline cawston responded on 21 June 2014 at 10:34am Reply

    Well, where to start? On the positive side, wonderful conducting, orchestral playing, singing - Kaufmann is in stupendous form. BUT - what is the point of turning the opera on its head and producing burlesque? This contradicts all that Puccini was trying to achieve, no matter how much you 'tweak' the libretto to match your 'concept'. After the magnificent duet in Act II do you really want the main reaction of the audience at its tragic conclusion to be tittering?
    It seems to be a perennial complaint about recent opera productions that unless you are sitting right in the middle of the house, there will be chunks of the production that you literally will not be able to see - hence some of the boos, I imagine. In this case, putting the singers up on high for parts of Act I and the whole of Act IV means that a lot of people wouldn't have been able to see some of the more viewable scenes, and worse, the accoustics are muffled (the sound seems to go up into the flies) and the top of the stairwell in Act I is very badly lit.,
    The best solution for Acts II and III is to close your eyes and imagine the ballet production - but I could do that at home with a CD. Because the music was so magnificent, the cast just about managed to transcend their surroundings, but unless you manage to reassemble them next time, the whole thing will just collapse in on itself. Off to Thurrock with it! What next - Andrea Chenier in Iraq?

  23. John M. responded on 21 June 2014 at 12:34pm Reply

    I saw the second performance. Musically, things were of a very high standard, as so often here. Kaufmann continues to amaze me. Singers, conductor and orchestra left the production way behind. Updating is fine but the director surely has to remain faithful to the libretto; what is being sung has to fit with what is going on around the singing. This was often not the case. The director's role is surely to clarify, not mystify. I did not understand all that was going on in act 3; I don't think the director did either. Is this production revivable? What will happen if the next singers don't have the physique du role that Opolais and Kaufmann have but tend more to the form much maligned in the press recently? Few marks for the sets, among the ugliest I have seen in a while and not even that original. Bregenz had a similar unfinished freeway in Porgy and Bess some years ago. I admire the ROH's policy of presenting works not often heard - Rusalka, Robert le Diable, La donna del lago, even Les vepres siciliennes (yes, I know it won awards) but why does it serve them up in stagings of dubious merit? It would be interesting to know whether there are any plans to revive any of these in the near future. But back to ML. The director's conceits did not serve the opera well. There is a place for Regietheater but it has to serve the opera. The director's idea (it is often no more than one) is not more important than the opera itself.In my opinion, ML joins a growing list of misguided productions.

  24. Heather Prophet responded on 21 June 2014 at 2:05pm Reply

    I was there on Tuesday evening and would wholeheartedly agree about the marvellous singing and music. Just sublime. I have never experienced booing in London before now, but after the initial shock had worn off, my feelings are that if audience applause is to continue to mean anything at all, then booing too must surely have its place?

  25. Geoff responded on 21 June 2014 at 7:35pm Reply

    This is an interesting debate. First, apologies to Naomi: it just was not clear what you meant in your comments about Kasper Holten in relation to this production which you now say you know he didn't direct ("I believe Kaspar Holten to be a disaster: pretentious, ignorant and musically illiterate.") You now say, by way of explanation, that Holten "is director of productions and has to design or approve them": I don't think that is quite accurate, but maybe you are not writing in your first language and don't actually mean e.g "design or approve" (how are you using the word "design"?)

    You go on by way of illustration to cite the Don Giovanni (which Kasper Holten directed but did not design) and "the glass boxed heroine in La Donna del Lago" (which Holten neither directed nor designed).

    To repeat, I have not seen this Manon (it sounds awful, unlike the Don Giovanni which I thought had much to recommend it) so am just trying to understand your strongly expressed analysis.

    Incidentally Donna Del Lago (admittedly a pretty hard work to stage - and I speak from experience) was poorly crafted by a junior working at speed, so we might agree about that production. Lovely voices though: I went every night!

    By the way some people have mentioned that this Manon is apparently hard to see from some seats. This is not a new problem: I remember a fabulous Ernani at La Scala (early 1980s?) which sticks in the mind because much was set below the level of the stage so the people in the most expensive seats saw the least. No idea if that was deliberate.

  26. Marianne responded on 21 June 2014 at 11:35pm Reply

    What is wrong with ROH audiences? After a stupendous vocal performance Kaufmann and Opolais did not get a single curtain call! People just stopped applauding as soon as the curtain came down. Such an anti-climax both for audience members who wanted to pay individual tributes and, much more importantly, for the singers. I've never seen such a thing at any other major opera house.

  27. MalcolmPalmer responded on 22 June 2014 at 8:52am Reply

    I just found Friday's performance mystifying but sung well. I could not understand the scaffolding coming down in act 2 followed by the women disappearing through a rent in a poster. And as for the precarious motorway in act 4. I did not boo but unusually for me I did not clap either.

  28. Kasper Holten should apologise & resign. To allow this tawdry production of Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden shows lack of judgement & taste. Too many directors are allowed to massage their egos with outrageous productions in order to make a name for themselves. They don't care if it makes a nonsense of the opera or ruins the music. It is all about them.

  29. Terry responded on 22 June 2014 at 6:14pm Reply

    Totally agree with all the negative points about the production. For me it was so bad particularly in Acts 2, 3, 4 that it distracted from and ruined the music and singing. It was a horrendous disappointment. It is a tragedy that a huge amount of money must have been spent on the worst production I have seen in decades. It will be almost impossible to have revivals. Also knowing American audiences I expect that cinema showings will cause offence and result in lost contracts for the ROH. Kasper Holten now has form.
    Musically the ROH is among if not the best house in the World. Further disasters like this will ruin its hard won reputation, impact box office receipts and certainly deter this opera goer from continuing to support this great musical institution.

  30. Ditlev responded on 23 June 2014 at 2:22pm Reply

    What a week for Puccini at the Royal Opera. First we had to endure an excellent cast and conductor being wasted on an incoherent production of Manon Lescaut, which tried to be "edgy" but along the way lost the ability to tell a clear story which would make sense even to the many educated operagoers who attend being familiar with the libretto and the music. Now we have a revival of Tosca in which a very fine trio of principals is hampered by the simply atrocious conducting of Placido Domingo. I have never witnessed such leaden, tension free, amateurish conducting at any major venue, never mind at the Royal Opera House which aspires to put on the best opera in the world. Are we seriously supposed to believe that Domingo was engaged on the basis of his merits as a conductor? When Antonio Pappano planned this season, did he really think "yes, let's ignore all the other experienced and acclaimed conductors in the world who have devoted their lives to conducting, and instead let's employ the notoriously dreadful Placido Domingo"? Is this not rather a penalty the audience has to suffer in order for Domingo to agree to perform further roles at the Royal Opera and for the house to host Operalia next year? A publicly subsided opera house should certainly not be flattering the vanity of performers who fancy themselves as multi-talented renaissance men and I for one was very disappointed to see a potentially excellent evening spoilt by such incompetence in the pit. Act One in particular was quite appalling - it was hard to believe that he had given so many acclaimed performances as Cavaradossi, given the mechanical, bar-by-bar treatment he gave to the orchestral playing, with rubato woefully absent and textures crudely balanced. Singers may feel excited and supported by working with such a famous singer, but alas it is we the audience who have to suffer the consequences and pay for our tickets. Please don't employ him again for a job for which he is evidently not qualified. If the price is that he refuses to perform in London again, then perhaps we can hear Verdi's baritone roles sung by genuine baritones who deserve their moment in the spotlight.

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 26 June 2014 at 8:26am

      It breaks my heart to say this, but it really is time that Mr Domingo retired. Incidentally, I say him in 'Manon Lescaut' and his performance has remained with me. And on the subject of booing: his Manon was Kiri te Kanawa, who was roundly booed at the curtain on the night I saw it.

  31. Philip responded on 23 June 2014 at 10:30pm Reply

    Given the volume of very negative responses to this performance, can we expect any sort of response either from the opera house or the production team?

  32. Gerald responded on 24 June 2014 at 10:13pm Reply

    Another stinker of a production from the Royal Opera, and another opera I won't book to see again until there is a new production. The singing and playing are superlative, but the production risible and, more worryingly, perverse in its treatment of Puccini's creation. The blocking of singers showed total disregard for the horseshoe shape of the auditorium, and placing singers up on high, ignorance of the theatre's acoustics whereas the underlying 'concept' showed a pick and choose approach to the work. What was going on in Act III is anyone's guess. The flyover is a useless extravagance. Perhaps the RO management wants succès de scandale but the paying public might possibly prefer a succès. The Holten 'refreshment' of the repertoire goes on apace.... pity the poor audience.

  33. Val responded on 24 June 2014 at 10:26pm Reply

    Pappano & orchestra wonderful. Both leads brilliant, ably supported by great cast. Shame about the ridiculous settings mentioned above. Completely incongruous and annoying. Manons costume & the explicit 2nd act ruined the opera & plumbed the depths for cheap thrills.

    Is this really what the ROH have to do to sell tickets? I don't think so.

    Despite all that the final act was emotionally stunning.

  34. Michael Hewens responded on 24 June 2014 at 10:30pm Reply

    Have just come back from being at my first live cinema version of an opera; it was absolutely great - good close-ups, ex cellent commentaries from Pappano, Terfel, and Holten. The modern-day version was similar to WNO's treatment earlier this year, with more boldness and explicitness (esp Act 2). Jonas and Kristine in fabulous voice and in acting these tricky roles, but the star to me was Antonio Pappano who coached everyone to his deeply-held views of Puccini's music and dramatic effects. I think we were treated with the very best singing, musicianship and production values that the world of opera can produce - well done ROH. I also enjoyed being there near home without the rail journey and the tight seats in the amphitheatre! Will do cinema again

  35. Di Watson responded on 24 June 2014 at 10:38pm Reply

    Just seen cinema live - Magnificent performances and orchestration- but the set was contrived, contorted and thoroughly inconsiderate of the performers..overdone! But nothing can stop enjoyment of Jonas and Kristina.

  36. James Gordon responded on 24 June 2014 at 11:11pm Reply

    I have just seen this in the cinema and am puzzled by the overwhelmingly negative reactions above. Yes, this was a modern update. Yes, some of it was tawdry, verging on soft porn. But most of it worked, and the cues are mostly there in the libretto, if perhaps less so in the music.

    Kaufmann and Opolais evidently believed in it, or they are even better actors than I thought. There was no shortage of interaction between them, well captured in close-up. Des Grieux as reputedly Domingo's favourite Puccini role; Kaufmann has followed in his footsteps once again. When will he do his first Tristan? The Tristanesque music in act 2 gave a taster of what it will be like. Don't leave it too late!

    The supporting cast gave uniformly believable cameos and even the usually irritating pastiche eighteenth-century scenes became dramatically real, by being staged as pastiche eighteenth century rather than pretending to be the real thing. And yes, it was repulsive. So it should be.

    Only in act 3 did I feel the team (or possibly I?) lost the plot. What was the setting meant to be? Why were the girls being shipped off to America? (If indeed they were. Transportation to the colonies is one thin, but it's hard to believe that crowd would be granted US visas!) Is there a case for updating the libretto when a production updates the setting? The subtitles did this on occasion, but inconsistently.

    Or am I just yearning nostalgically for the quayside at Le Havre in the 1980s, with the intermezzo and act 3 on the car stereo while waiting to disembark from the overnight ferry?

    At first I thought the Livre de Poche that des Grieux was holding for most of the first act would turn out to be Prévost's original novel. The choice of "L'Etranger" was much more apt for a moody student of today - but surely, given the original setting of Act 3, if an existentialist novel was required, it should have been Sartre's "La Nausée"?

  37. Katherine Morgan responded on 24 June 2014 at 11:23pm Reply

    Just watched the live broadcast of tonights performance. Having read the reviews I was wary....but I needn't have been. The lead performances were astonishingly powerful, extraordinary in skill, passion and depth. Bravo!

  38. Althea Collier responded on 24 June 2014 at 11:39pm Reply

    I was looking forward to the relay performance this evening having heard the voice of Kaufman just a few weeks ago since when I have acquired two of his CD's and played them many,many times. The singing of both Kaufman and Opolais was superb, as was the acting but it was a pity that the production left one wondering exactly what was intended especially in the last scene. This obviously detracted from the glorious music. However the presentation of the live performance and the insights from Pappano were excellent.

  39. Gill responded on 25 June 2014 at 12:10am Reply

    Not being an opera buff I came to this opera at my local cinema with a completely open mind. I was completely blown away by the music, the singing and the powerful production which resonates on so many levels. Are opera goers really so close minded they cannot see beyond tradition to the true art of Puccinis work that soars through the centuries to still be so relevant today My soul is truly uplifted

    • andrew responded on 26 June 2014 at 12:54am

      well said, Gill. The entire production was hell-bent, and rightly so, on making the genuine appreciater of what goes on every day and night in ROH experience some uncomfortable feelings (for a change) - and used costume, props and sets to make US feel uncomfortable. Quite why complainants wanted Manon to wear something she would be happy to wear is beyond me. I really hope that the DVD goes ballistic for them - it was brilliantly produced.

    • Deborah Jackson responded on 26 June 2014 at 9:07am

      Gill, how wonderful to read your comment after all the carping comments above. I too went to the cinema relay and loved it all and I've been going to the opera for 30 years!

  40. Susan responded on 25 June 2014 at 12:38am Reply

    Brilliant singing, interesting production. Only criticism: Manon's second costume was not sexy it was ridiculous right to her death. I pity Opolais who had to wear it. Many thanks for your live cinema showings in Rome and Grosseto. Sadly only ten people in the cinema, maybe because of Italy playing in the World Cup this evening!

  41. Paul responded on 25 June 2014 at 6:27am Reply

    The singing of both Kaufman and Opolais was great, the production was awful - motorway bridge too distracting and poor Opolais having to endure that awful dress.
    Cinema sadly nearly empty, felt the same way as I headed for the exit......

  42. Nan Davies responded on 25 June 2014 at 8:24am Reply

    It seems that those of us who saw this production at the cinema were more fortunate than the theatre audience in that we did not experience the acoustic and sight line problems. It has left me wondering whether Jonathan Kent set out to make it a more dramatic experience for cinema goers, at the expense of the live audience?

    If he did, it still did not work, as we were equally perplexed at what was going on in Act III. Also Manon's costume in Act II distracted from the music in that many of her movements seemed to be an attempt to cover her modesty 'down below' so she was obviously uncomfortable in it. For me it rather destroyed the passion. For her then to be wearing the same costume, lying flat on her back, teetering on the edge of a steep drop on top of a concrete monstrosity made the whole scene laughable. Even the most wondrous singing could not move me at all in this death scene. What a waste of the stupendous talents of the two lead singers!

  43. Mike responded on 25 June 2014 at 11:01am Reply

    Oh my... I was really looking forward to this production, but having just seen the photos... I am deeply disappointed to know this Puccini masterpiece has been absolutely torn to pieces by a frankly stupid production. There was so much fuss about it and the ticket prices are a record high for ROH, although the staging is probably a record low. I'm really not expecting anything special, so will probably just close my eyes and listen to the wonderful cast. What a shame!

  44. John responded on 25 June 2014 at 11:30am Reply

    I agree with Philip above that it would be good if the opera house and/or Jonathan Kent actually responded to these many negative comments and offered an explanation for the many inconsistencies of this production and clarified their intentions. If Kasper Holten wants to refresh the repertoires and the range of production styles at the Royal Opera, would it not be wise actually to engage in a dialogue with the audience rather than just presenting a string of new productions met with baring degrees of success and offering no comment? The "Leave Opera Alone" evening will only be accessible to a small audience and I doubt Kaspet Holten will wish to go into detail about productions he didn't himself direct in order to avoid offence.

  45. Adrian Thorpe responded on 25 June 2014 at 11:40am Reply

    If you compare Puccini's Manon Lescaut with Massenet's more conventional story-telling you see that, as in La Boheme which followed, Puccini has chosen four individual scenes and homed in on them. So no criticism of a Director for junking the "and then ... and then ..." links between the scenes: Puccini has already done that. To me it made sense to create four individual and increasingly nightmarish modern settings. Rather as Hogarth did, for those who must have an 18th-century context. Of course Manon is about the exploitation of women, but it's also about women co-operating with those who exploit them. It's very disturbing, but then Puccini - with his fixation with destroying innocence (like Hitchcock's desire to torture blondes) is disturbing.

    After a relatively straight, but with sinister overtones, "girls just want to have fun" scene, we see the rich man and the asset he has bought, both dealing in sex (hers). There's a clear parallel between an 18th-century dancing-master teaching Manon desirable deportment and a 21st-century glamour photographer instructing her how to stick her tits out. Jonathan Kent was right in Act III to replace the 18th-century plot machinery of petty criminals being transported to the French equivalent of New South Wales with a parade of girls - some of them clearly trafficked - being inducted into some nightmarish brothel: nasty and disturbing, but what does anyone think the original was? And what better metaphor for Puccini's "dusty road leading nowhere" and the end result of a mindless pursuit of slebrity than a smashed-up motorway flyover?

    I'm no uncritical fan of modern opera productions, many of which I dislike and most of which insult the audience by assuming we are too thick to see the obvious for ourselves, but this one really, really worked.

    There's only one word for the playing and singing: wonderful. And a special thank-you to Christopher Maltman for his splendid recreation of The Engineer in Miss Saigon.

    • John responded on 25 June 2014 at 12:52pm

      Adrian, the problem with turning Act 3 into a scene of women being sent to a brothel isn't just that the libretto has a number of references to them being sent to America, it's that what Manon undergoes is clearly an officially sanctioned punishment - as is clear by the large crowd of men and women gathered to watch them being escorted away and being publicly named and shamed. They are the scapegoats for the sins of their society. No modern western government would ever tolerate such behaviour - and if Jonathan Kent wanted to present us with a story about a society sufficiently dystopian that they would sanction such morally abhorrent behaviour in the name of law, then he needed to make that much clearer from the start of the opera.

  46. Kasper Holten responded on 25 June 2014 at 12:25pm Reply

    Thank you all for your comments. It is wonderful to feel our shared passion and love for opera. I think it is healthy that we can discuss productions, and yes, John, I am more than happy to engage in a dialogue with the audience, and try to do so on blogs, interviews, on twitter, when answering letters, here and in other ways. I love opera passionately and am always very interested in how the audience perceives all aspects of our work and am happy to discuss.

    It is clear that this production has divided opinion, with some finding it strong, others dismissing it completely and yet again some finding parts of it good and other parts less so. Look at the critics in the national newspapers, who are similarly divided. Ultimately, it is also a question of taste. I don’t think it is for me to discuss the choices made by Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown, both highly acclaimed British artists, both working at ROH prior to my arrival.

    I do personally think risk-taking and experimentation is important, and with this there can never be a guarantee that we will all agree about or like everything. I personally do appreciate when we challenge the masterpieces and search for new angles to look at them from. But I certainly do not believe everything should be done here according to just my taste in productions. We believe in a range of production styles, and I think you will see that is the case if you look across the season – also next season will feature new productions done in very different styles.

    But we do owe it to the audience to try to be as honest as possible about what we are planning. So I personally made sure that in the advance marketing for Manon Lescaut, we stated that the story would be told in “stark contemporary images”.

    I would like to apologize sincerely for sightline problems. Our auditorium faces us with a lot of challenges in this respect, and this production has showcased some new issues. It is something I take very seriously and spend a lot of time on – believe it or not –, but obviously in this case I have failed, and I will work even harder on this issue in the future with my colleagues. Promise.

    @Naomi/Valerie/Gerald: I am truly very sad if this is indeed how I come across to you as Director of Opera to you. However, I can assure you I am not trying to impose a special style or regime, and I believe in evolution rather than revolution. I do not plan the repertory alone, of course, and I work within a tradition at ROH from long before me, with a mix of production styles on offer. Incidentally, this production was planned before I was appointed, but I have seen it through and am of course happy to stand by it.

    • Mike responded on 26 June 2014 at 11:09am

      ..."also next season will feature new productions done in very different styles". It's sad to be only 25 and think that in a few years there will be no more truly classical productions left and I will have to resort to watching old recordings instead. And I come to ROH about 25 times each season.

      And, just to be clear, I don't mind 'new angles'... I loved Don Giovanni, I'm all in for the simplicity in Carmelites, enjoyed Les Vepres and so on... But there is a line where a great masterpiece turns into a grotesque spectacle and you've certainly crossed it. Your production is up there with the pink haired Juliette from La Fenice!

  47. maria responded on 25 June 2014 at 1:24pm Reply

    creo el decorado era feo con ganas, en el último acto estuve mas preocupada si se mataba manon o se moría como siempre, creo el segundo acto no tiene nada que ver con lo que puccini escribió, esa parte lésbica y machista no me agradó, menos mal los cantantes y el director de orquesta que aun y a pesar de todo, estuvieron geniales.

  48. Debbie responded on 25 June 2014 at 5:53pm Reply

    Astonished to see so many negative comments. I feel so lucky to have been at the theatre last night and cannot stop thinking about the wonderful music (who could be better than Pappano, thank you so much), and extraordinary singing. Thank you so much to Jonas Kaufmann, Kristine Opolais, Christopher Maltman. As for the staging, it is easy to understand what many people are complaining about; yes, there was a lot of climbing up and down; yes, I felt for Kristine having to cope with the very very short costume, and yes, I did worry for the safety of both of them in the final scene, which slightly distracted from the emotional impact. I did feel the dress, the mask, and the precarious setting in Act 4 were asking too much, perhaps, from the two wonderful leads. But I loved it. It was interesting and challenging and thought-provoking. Act III was great and, to me, the plot was clear. I loved the idea of the public humiliation being captured on reality tv, and thought some of the finest singing of the night came in Jonas' emotional pleas not to be separated from Manon. A truly memorable experience and many thanks from a very happy and grateful person privileged to be there on the night.

  49. andrew responded on 25 June 2014 at 11:48pm Reply

    Dear Kasper,

    Anyone who goes to a the ballet or opera (live or live-feed) thinking that it is being primarily staged for THEIR enjoyment needs to

  50. Geoff responded on 26 June 2014 at 6:53am Reply

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments Mr Holten (and for the clarification that this Manon production predates your arrival at the Royal Opera): much appreciated!

  51. Marie Louise responded on 26 June 2014 at 9:21pm Reply

    coming back from the broadcast I hurried to listen to the puccini by Rattle and Eyre in Baden I had previously recorded That was opera with charm,tenderness ,fickelness,not just sexual addiction and greed in a competition of decibels singing:even beloved jonas was at is usual insome very few moments mostly the beginning scenes:first time I find myself so thoroughly disappointed by a R O H production

  52. bill worley responded on 27 June 2014 at 1:45pm Reply

    Haveing seen this production at Covent garden last week, I went adn saw the conema relay on Tuesday. At the latter I left at the interval. It was as bad as it had been in the opera house. To all the people who thought this was an innovative and bold production, I wonder how many times they had actually seen the opera. If you were seeing it for the first time there is a debate as to whether you have actually seen it.

    While I accept the comments that Kaspar Holten did not have any direct responsibilty of the design or direction, as Director of Opera he must surely have some right of veto. I have always wondered if, when planning new productions, someone at Covent Garden asks whether the paying public will actually like it. Judging by the reaction on the first night I would suggest, as far as Manon Lescaut is concerned, the answer is an emphatic NO!! As fas as the usic side of the performance, apart from Kaufmann, I found it all very mediocre. I agree that this is another production I will not bother with if it is ever revived and it may not be. Afterall how many of these disasterous productions have been revived? I also unerstand that a very eminent Opera Director has come out and said that it was all horrendous. I am seriously thinking about not renewing my Friends' Membership

  53. Tim Walton responded on 28 June 2014 at 2:54pm Reply

    I went to the First night and musically it couldn't be bettered. Kristine & Jonas were sensational

    As for the production, well to be as polite at possible it was crass!

    Someone mentioned that Holten should have put a stop to it as Director of Opera, but that would have been the height of Hypocracy as his own productions are just as crass.

    The only way things can improve at the ROH is for Holten to go home & as far away from the ROH as possible He is a complete embarrassment

  54. Mark Tunnicliffe responded on 28 June 2014 at 9:38pm Reply

    Earlier this year I saw a production of Welsh National Opera's production of Manon Lescaut this was also terribly staged, with awful lighting. Set in a tube station (I think) with flashing lights/strobes and spots shining back into the auditorium so you could not look at the stage. What is it about this production that effects lighting and production designers to put on these "Challenging" productions that does nothing to enhance the music, but in fact does the total opposite and is a total distraction from some very fine music by WNO and no doubt the Royal Opera House. The cast at Birmingham where on the whole excellent but how they performed at all amongst all the confused staging and flashing imagery and lights is a miracle. Lets hope ROH and WNO will put the music centre stage in the future rather than these terrible productions!

  55. Heather Willson responded on 28 June 2014 at 10:47pm Reply

    Have just returned from Manon Lescaut performance and thought it was brilliant. Was concerned beforehand after reading so many negative comments. Kaufman,Opolais
    and Maltman brought the house down- 10 mins of continuous applause. Pappano fantastic as ever. Edgy production, but the sexual degradation of Manon is consistent with the story. The critics should be more open- minded. Bravo Jonathan Kent.

  56. Hilary Muggridge responded on 29 June 2014 at 12:05pm Reply

    Kasper Holten tell us us that "this production showcased some new (sight line) issues". Duh, why am I surprised that he is surprised? Any producer, artistic director, would/should know all this surely? But it rather indicates that KH has never sat in the slips or back of amphi for a performance. I won't repeat other very apposite comments but merely observe that having from time to time seen some pretty duff ROH productions, this was one of the duff-est. If it hadn't been for the excellent principals and the lovely Tony P, we would have been in trouble.

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 1 July 2014 at 7:50am

      The past is a foreign country, as someone once observed, but isn't it sad that they didn't re-build the auditorium when they re-built the building. We were told that it was much loved by the audience: presumably by those in the stalls. Its crap and, personally, I hated it back then and I hate it now.

  57. Roy Hiscock responded on 29 June 2014 at 2:46pm Reply

    We (my partner and I) saw this production last night: we were in our usual lower slips "restricted view" seats (restricted mainly by the hideous lighting arrangement around the auditorium) and some of these comments may be affected by this.
    a) the orchestra was magnificent but seemed rather loud, at times overpowering the singers (this may have been because of the way the producer placed the singers);
    b) at risk of getting lynched, I felt that at times Mr Kaufmann sounded slightly underpowered and uninterested in what was going on (for the rest - about 95% of the time - I would agree with the general consensus that I have not heard him sing better at the ROH: and the reservation may have been caused my seating);
    c) Ms Opolais somehow managed to overcome the silliness of the production and design and that horrible costume and, in the last act particularly, was tremendously moving;
    d) the designs/production
    i) not that I have any personal experience, of course, but my impression is that rich, dirty old men do not generally want their trophy wives or girl-friends to dress in a hideous fashion - Geronte is obviously an exception;
    ii) now I may be geographically challenged, but the last act takes place in Louisiana, in the middle of nowhere, in this case, on a broken-down freeway: fine - but why have we got a back projection showing Arizona (or was it the area around the Angel Falls in Venezuela - no, too remote from any motorway)? Does this mean that cutting edge productions revert to 1950s Western cinema?
    iii) The lovely intermezzo was ruined by a projection of (I think) part of Prevost's text - it was unreadable from where I was sitting: why directors/designers think it such a spiffing wheeze to illustrate (or in this case, for a large part of the audience, fail to illustrate) music that in context is self-explanatory is beyond me.

  58. JEM responded on 30 June 2014 at 4:52pm Reply

    I saw this production on Saturday 28th June. I had saved for an A-row seat in the DGGT, as it was a very special opera for me. I knew it was going to be 'contemporary' and I tried, how I tried, to be open minded with regard to the settings. I managed the people carrier, and the movements of Kaufmann and Opolais up and down the spiral staircase (at least I could see them, which I believe was quite difficult for some in the House, but it didn't help the singing), I even tried to relate Act 2 to Le Prevost, but in the end I just closed my eyes and listened to the amazing voices of the cast, and let the music pour undistracted into my senses. Change is always difficult, the ROH needs to move forward and entice new and young people to it, but please do not do this at the expense of those of us who visit the opera wanting certain operas to be on the more traditional side, especially when the period of the story is as lavish as that of Le Prevost's story. A beautifully costumed ML is such a feast for the eyes as well as Puccini's banquet for the ears; sometimes it is not necessary to make changes for the sake of change. A slightly-altered piece of wisdom for Mr KH - God grant me the strength to accept the things I 'shouldn't' change, the courage to change the things I 'might be able to get away with and the audience will generally approve of' ', and the wisdom to know the difference!

  59. François responded on 30 June 2014 at 10:45pm Reply

    @Roy Hiscock
    The projection of Prevot's text during the Intermezzo is written in Puccini's score itself. In fact, in many of Puccini's scores there is a text that links each Act together. They usually describe the evolution of the feeling of the characters during the months or years that separate each Act (in this case, Des Grieux's feelings).
    I really appreciated that for the first time in almost half a century a Director respected that specific structure of Puccini's scores. The only drawback was that it was projected on the ROH's curtain, which made it very difficult to read...

    • Roy Hiscock responded on 1 July 2014 at 9:43pm

      Dear Francois
      Thank for your comment - touché. To be honest, I - wrongly - did not realise that the quote was intended to be shown in some way (I would not, after all, expect that a synopsis of a Strauss tone poem would be projected around a concert hall). At present listening to the Radio 3 broadcast: any reservations that I had about the performance and balance (and they were very few) were completely removed. This is a performance to treasure.

  60. Peter responded on 1 July 2014 at 2:04pm Reply

    It was fascinating reading this thread. I am sure cultural historians will find it a valuable source. I thought the production was inspired and thought provoking. I was not bothered by any inconsistencies or improbabilities. Why audiences expect the fantasy of opera to be realistic is beyond me. Kent managed to find an artistic truth in this opera which makes me think it might be a better work than it actually is. I think what most people have found really challenging is that the music is so ravishing and yet the text reveals something unbearably revolting. The production recognises the complexities and doesnt try to hide them from the audience. I have been going to Covent Garden for 40 years and this is one of the most outstanding productions I have seen.

  61. Sean responded on 1 July 2014 at 11:40pm Reply

    Oh what can I add? Wonderful singing, fabulous playing from the orchestra, incredible conducting..... You can guess the rest. Stupid, ugly production that went a long way to negate the other joys. I really do not need a director with some dumb half baked concept to explain things to me. I have been going to about 40 operas a year all over the world for many many years and don't appreciate being patronised. I loathe and detest Regie with a burning passion that increases with each pretentious mutilation of a beautiful or moving or even imperfect work. I suspect many others do too. Great to hear Kaufmann but 350 pounds for this? I don't think so.

    • r.a. responded on 2 July 2014 at 2:59pm

      I think there is a typo in the last comment: top price tickets were £250 not £350.

  62. Ralph Baker responded on 2 July 2014 at 12:11pm Reply

    I saw the production in a cinema in Tokyo on 25th June. The production is problematic. First problem is the staging. It is overdone, and it patronises the audience. I really feel the director does not understand Puccini. I also feel that he has psychological problems. Why does he have to turn Manon into a prostitute? Why does he have to mess about with simulated sex in Act 2? Why does he have no respect for the singers, getting them to do such stupid things onstage, does he have no respect for them as artists? What the hell does the stage setting in Act 1 have to do with this opera? Why does the ROH have to spend so much money on this production? Who decided to spend the money? Who commissioned this rubbish? For that, simply, is what it is. Problem number 2. Manon and Jonas K sing far too loudly AT ALL TIMES! Not necessary! What about coloratura? The two leads and C Maltman need to pronounce Italian better. I believe there is an Italian language coach at the ROH, why do they not listen to what she says?

    Finally, I feel cheated by this Jonathan Kent. If Puccini were alive and he saw this production, he'd have a heart attack. Why didn't Pappano tell J Kent that his idea of Manon Lescaut had no connection to Puccini?

  63. r.a. responded on 2 July 2014 at 12:19pm Reply

    I saw the new production on 1 July. I adore Puccini and the opportunity of hearing the score conducted by Pappano - in my opinion the greatest Puccini conductor of our times - was too good to miss although I was apprehensive having read some of the comments about the production.
    I find the story of Manon a fascinating one that can be viewed on many levels: I have read Prévôt's book, and I have also seen productions of the Massenet opera and Macmillan's ballet at ROH. I found nothing in Jonathan Kent's new production of Puccini's opera to justify the extreme negativity of some of the comments. In my opinion, a new production should be stimulating and encourage us to think about the piece in question, while remaining true to the spirit of the music and the libretto, and not ignoring them and imposing something which doesn't fit. I found nothing in the new production that couldn't be justified as a valid interpretation of the story and in keeping with the music, including the projection of the text during the poignant intermezzo which for me was the highlight of the evening. Puccini's take on the story is very different from Massenet's - he emphasizes some of the more sordid and ugly aspects of it, and this production merely highlights in the visuals what is already apparent in the music and the text.
    I was seated next to a lady probably in her late seventies, and discussed the performance with her during the interval. I was curious to know what someone from a different generation from myself would make of the production. She thought it very good. I mentioned some of the negative feedback and she responded 'They found it shocking? You mean, the lovemaking? But it is not a pretty story, is it.'
    I thought she had it exactly right. It is not a pretty story, it is verismo.

  64. Stephen Diviani responded on 2 July 2014 at 4:56pm Reply

    I saw the production last night and am puzzled by all the negative criticism. Sure, I hated the now infamous spiral staircase, and had issues with some of the blocking/ideas (mostly the third act), but found the reading of the opera entirely valid, thought-out, and the apocalyptic ending more powerful than in any other production I have seen. I wasn't alone, if the conversations I had, or overheard were anything to go by, so I am sorry that Mr Holten, who is really good news for the ROH, has partly disowned the production. And Christopher Maltman was superb. Two argumentative Queens next!

  65. Sean responded on 2 July 2014 at 7:56pm Reply

    "I think there is a typo in the last comment: top price tickets were £250 not £350."

    Add in travel from 150 miles away and cheap hotel. 350 is probably an understatement.

  66. Sean responded on 2 July 2014 at 11:19pm Reply

    God, I am still seething. Such musical forces which could have been directed with a subtle touch, movement, a look. Reactions to the score, to the libretto. But no. We get THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS. DO YOU GET IT NOW???? That is why I hate spending so much to be patronised. I would far prefer to see and hear B list performers with a sensitive production. Well whatever. A huge pleasure in my life has been removed thanks to Messrs Holten and Kent. I'll get over it and save lots of money in the process. And new generations will be deprived of the subtle and intense delights of the world's greatest art form.

  67. stephen ratcliffe responded on 3 July 2014 at 1:31pm Reply

    I was there on Tuesday. Whilst the singing and conducting were first rate I was left completely unmoved. In contrast at Holland Park I wept buckets during La Fanciulla del West, as Minnie appealed to the miners in Act 3. I think the production played Manon in a very cold and vulgar way and there was no opportunity to fall in love with her. Great disappointment.

  68. Judith responded on 3 July 2014 at 4:34pm Reply

    I saw this on July 1st. The singers were wonderful, as was the orchestra. However, sitting in Row B of the side stalls I had to bend double to see the singers at all while they were perched on assorted high contraptions. For the first time ever I wondered if I would have been better to go to the cinema. The performers were worth every penny of my £80, but the set most
    certainly wasn't! It is time for producers to remember the layout of the auditorium and make their work visible to all.

  69. Valerie responded on 3 July 2014 at 9:26pm Reply

    I saw this on Tuesday from row B in the stalls and of course was forewarned and thought I knew what to expect for my £200 plus ticket. However, I thought the production was amazing but am not sure it could have been carried off by other than Kaufmann, Pappano and the amazing Opolais. I loved her soft porn exhibition in that ghastly outfit, her youthful charm, wonderful acting, agility up and down the spiril staircase and passionate singing. Never heard Kaufmann in such voice. The dream team. Loved it !

  70. r.a. responded on 4 July 2014 at 11:03am Reply

    I'd be interested to know if a DVD or CD of this production is planned. The Radio 3 live broadcast from Tuesday is only available for a week. There was so much clarity and subtlety in Pappano's reading of the score, it was quite wonderful ...

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 4 July 2014 at 1:37pm

      Hi there

      We've not had a DVD confirmed yet, but will flag on the blog and social media if one is released.

      Best wishes


  71. Giacomo responded on 7 July 2014 at 9:32am Reply

    I had every expectation of going to Manon until seeing the negative comment here and I sadly conclude it's not for me. Not have seen the production I can't comment specifically on which bits I dislike but as a regular of the ROH including three other Puccini works in the last year the ROH really should want to know why I wouldn't go. My comments, as I think many others, are based on a series of dreadful productions, including Maria Struada last Saturday night which was AWFUL! (The booing was fully deserved.)

    I have wondered if directors read libretti but seeing the history of complaints and the lack of contrition I wonder if it's just an inability to read. The only thing Kasper Holten seems sorry about is that audiences don't share his poor taste. Thinking the complaints are healthy is shocking. If KH is not deeply hurt by the comments then he has failed to understand. KH is not the "director of the opera" but is the "Director of Opera" and must be held responsible. KH tells us he is passionate about opera but that is not what matters (alone). We need someone who is passionate about audiences. The audience is the paying customer; the director is a paid servant.

    Bad production is overwhelming the biggest complaint of opera-goers and perhaps more importantly of non and former attendees. We hate your modern, sparse, cheap looking, deliberately offensive productions that visually have almost nothing to do with the story

    • Stephen Diviani responded on 9 July 2014 at 8:55am

      Giacomo, you write as if 'opera-goers' operate as a single entity, all thinking exactly the same things, all wanting the same things from an opera production. They don't operate in this way, as the comments above indicate. You avoided 'Manon' for the same reasons I would have wanted to see it. (In the event, I booked before I knew anything about the production because of the singers and, for all its weaknesses, because I love the opera.) You write of an 'audience' in the same mistaken terms. And no artist should follow taste (other than the most commercial or populist ones), they should lead it. Sure, the 'audience' pays , but that doesn't make the director a whore. A director shouldn't simply read a libretto, their job is to interpret it. Sometimes in ways that some members of the audience might not like.

    • Giacomo responded on 9 July 2014 at 3:26pm

      Stephen, I use "opera-goers" as the set of people that go to the opera and this set can indeed be considered a single "entity", the only behavioural characteristic is they have been to an opera. I use "audience" in the same way. Whilst I accept that my own experience is only a sample I stand by what I said is the biggest (not universal) complaint I hear. That is, of the set of people that go to of have ever been to the opera, "opera-goers", take the sub set (Venn intersect) in my experience, take the sub set that complain then largest number of complaints is about modern production. The negative comments here and elsewhere and the recent booing show it is perfectly fair to extrapolate what I hear beyond my personal contact.

      There is confusion (or maybe we fundamentally disagree) about the role art plays. The artists that created this opera can no longer lead because they are dead. The director's job is not to interpret a libretto but to be a part of a team that causes people to attend and pay money (the ENO are failing in this). I don't see the director's role within the team as being inventive in same the way a conductor is not the composer. You are completely right that taking money does not make the director a whore (I'm not sure why you mentioned it), providing goods and services for reward is what most people do.

    • r.a. responded on 9 July 2014 at 9:37pm

      I'm sorry that Giacomo was put off by the negative comments about the production and decided against seeing it. I initially felt a bit wary after reading the comments but I adore this opera which is so rarely performed and I really wanted to hear Antonio Pappano's interpretation. I am very glad that I did: I enjoyed it very much - the music AND the production which I found very thought-provoking - so much so that I ended up getting day tickets and seeing it three times.
      I completely understand the frustrations of patrons who couldn't see key elements of the stage from where they were sitting and I hope this problem is addressed so that it doesn't affect people's enjoyment for future productions. I also understand that the production might not have been to some people's personal taste.
      But I think it's absurd to suggest - as some people have - that Kasper Holten should resign because they don't like this or that production. The arts are not like a mathematical puzzle where there is a right or wrong answer - they are works of the creative imagination.
      It is impossible to please everyone - it would be like asking a top chef to cook a steak for a thousand people, and then saying s/he should be sacked for cooking the steak rare when some of the customers preferred it well done or vice versa.
      I think perhaps we are becoming too used to period dramas on television where obsessive attention is paid to the detail of historical costume and rooms in grand houses, and less focus on the emotional world of the characters that inhabit them. As a result, when a producer attempts to challenge us in his/her interpretation of an opera, and confronts us with some parallels in the modern world, it seems to make some people very uncomfortable and unwilling to engage with it; a period presentation of the story is much safer and allows the audience to maintain a comfortable distance from what is going on on stage. Unfortunately, too, we are so used to hearing beautiful Puccini melodies taken out of context in advertisements or at sporting events, that when they appear in context and the production emphasizes issues of sexual exploitation, superficiality, the obsessive desire for material products - all of which are in Puccini's music and the libretto - some people would rather not know about it. Yes, Manon Lescaut is a wonderfully passionate and poignant love story, but it is not Mills & Boon.

    • Giacomo responded on 11 July 2014 at 11:11am

      r.a., It seems more like asking a chief for a chocolate mousse and being served a kipper. [Speaking generally] It's gone beyond interpretations and matters of taste. The mousse is not too creamy, too sweet or not light enough, the problem is it is smoked fish and the director added chilly powder just to make it provoking. (I'm sure a chief *would* be sacked for this.)

      Maria Stuarda is not even close to paying attention to historic detail - this is not the problem. It is more like "why are they time travellers?" or generally "why is what I'm seeing unrelated to the words/story?", "why is what I'm seeing not complementing or enhancing what I'm hearing?", "why did I pay to see something ugly?", "why did I pay to be offended?".

      Maria Stuarda *is* *unrelated* to me and the modern world: our kings and queens don't make political marriages, I'm not king, I don't resolve arguments with beheadings, etc. The story only makes sense in its context.

  72. Jenny responded on 7 July 2014 at 7:08pm Reply

    I doubt you will ever find another cast or conductor who will be able to equal this wonderful musical performance. I do hope you are going to produce both a DVD and a CD so that this outstanding performance can be preserved for posterity. One week on Radio 3 IPlayer really isn't enough!

  73. A J Ashworth responded on 8 July 2014 at 1:11pm Reply

    Saw it last night, singing exceptional, orchestra playing also exceptional, production, had they forgotten that New Orleans is not part of France, or is this a futuristic production indicating that it will become French at some point? For me the production should have been period and kept simple!

  74. Heather Willson responded on 8 July 2014 at 9:14pm Reply

    Have just listened to Manon Lescaut twice on Radio 3 - absolutely fantastic. I have already written positive comments on the production having seen it at ROH. I should like to refute the many negative comments by saying that whatever one thinks about the staging and direction, one cannot deny that the orchestral playing and singing is first class.

  75. Kathleen responded on 25 July 2014 at 12:02am Reply

    1. I enjoyed watching another opera from the ROH in Pleasantville, NY (even though it was not really live it is a treat to see these).
    2. I thought the singing was super especially Kaufman and Opolais. Lovely.
    3. I had to read Manon in French class a few zillion years ago in the '60's and I still got mixed up with the plot. What was the logic for Manon's arrest? Was she arrested for being a courtesan? I liked Sir Tony's comment about thinking about it all as scenes from a nightmare. (He is really very, very good in the filmed intros.)
    4. While some of your modernizations I have not liked, this one I did like especially when I was looking at it with Sir Tony's lens of looking at it as “scenes from a nightmare.” One thing I think you should consider is that many people have never seen these operas presented in a traditional format. This was my first Manon. It might be good to have a repertoire of many versions of these operas. I find, for example, that the National Theatre seems to do this with Shakespeare and all the recent performances are “updated” with a current look and things like Hamlet smoking and so on. It makes me wonder if a younger generation will have the opportunity to see these works of art through a traditional lens as well. I do like looking at these with both a traditional lens and a contemporary lens.
    5. Someone commented about Louisiana and I think that the Louisiana at the time the book was written in the 1700's was vast, reaching from the Gulf of Mexico to what is now the top of Canada. Of course, if Manon was heading to the British territory she would have been headed east and probably not west, but it is all allegorical anyway.

  76. Linda responded on 31 July 2014 at 6:06pm Reply

    At the end of the day, does a new production enhance and convey the story, or detract from the story? I think there were several moments you could argue it did both, but more the latter I'm afraid.

    Many moments seemed over the top, head scratching, crass and some what cheezy, which simply doesn't communicate the beauty of the opera. It comes across as gimmicky just for shock and buzz value.

    Watching the bedroom scene with Manon and Geronte was a little "uncomfortable", feeling like this isn't what I signed up for. "We get it" - Manon is young, shallow, immature and uses her sexuality, but do we really need to be clubbed over the head with a bleach blonde gold digger strip act? Sorry it didn't enhance the story for me. It was a good idea, but should have been handled a bit more elegantly.

    I think Michael Mayer's production of Rigoletto in Las Vegas was much more successful and tasteful. Opera doesn't need to be loud and crass to be "new" and "modern".

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