Opera de Oviedo 2023-24 Review: Manon

By Mauricio Villa

Ópera de Oviedo commemorated their 75th season by presenting Massenet’s “Manon,” a new coproduction between opera de Oviedo, Teatro Municipal Santiago de Chile and Auditorio de Tenerife. All performances were dedicated to the great Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles who performed 75 years ago at the Oviedo coliseum.

Emilio Sagi’s Beautiful Labyrinth

The veteran and admired stage director Emilio Sagi does what he knows best. He tells the story clearly with emotion and wonderful aesthetics. This is something rarely seen today. The opera was set in a beautiful abstract stage composed of three walls which delimited the stage with an upper gallery, where the choir sang most of the time. There were exceptions in some moments like during the “Cour de la rene” and “Casino” scenes. On the stage were four big sets of staircases that were moved around by actors during the scenes, making the action fluid and with a splendid continuum forming different spaces. Walls and staircases were painted with abstract motives of tress and flowers which melted perfectly in the pastel tonalities of the blue-green sets where Sagi sets the action clearly, directing the singers with passion and real emotions. The love scenes were moving and passionate. The final scene was extremely emotional as Manon dies in Des Grieux’s arms.

There were only a few elements present on stage such as tables and chairs. In fact, the chairs are a constant symbolic element in Sagi’s productions. There was a strong theatrical effect when actors held chairs in different positions, forming a line at the edge of the stage, while the stage was changing for the final scene behind them. It’s amazing how you can tell so much with so little. Chairs and tables were thrown on the stage forming an abstract labyrinth of chaos surrounded by the dead bodies of several women. The pastel colors were present on the costumes, as well as during the first scenes, evolving and developing with the action.

The colors then mirrored the bright pink dress that Manon wears during the “Saint Sulpice scene,” or the “Casino” scene. Sagi, as usual, combines tradition and good taste with a modern approach. The production was a rotund success.

A Great Manon

Sabina Puértolas portrayed the title role of Manon. This lyric-coloratura soprano’s voice became more lyrical as her center and lower register expanded, showing some roughness in her higher range. She did not choose the “oppure,” or optional, cadenzas that Massenet wrote going up to E naturals. However, she delivered two strong and secure high Ds. In her “cour de la rene” scene, “Je marche sur tous les chemins,” she navigated comfortably through the high tessitura. She sang brilliant diminuendos on the several ascensions to B naturals. Although, the little coloratura and staccato notes that she sang seemed blurred and slightly out of breath. But despite the leggera options, Manon’s role is written mostly for a lyrical voice with a strong centre and voluminous high notes and this is where the soprano succeeded. The highlight of her performance was her second act aria, “Adie notre petite table,” which she sang with delicacy, sorrow, exquisite piannisimi and deep dramatism. The B flat of “par la beaute” was voluminous and dramatic. She was tremendously sensual and seductive in the “Saint Sulpice” scene in act three, and provocative and determined in the casino scene in act four.

Puértolas’ high notes are powerful, although they do sometimes sound a bit strident. Her high C, D flat and D natural were clearly present and heard. But sadly, her centre did not project enough to be heard during ensembles and her voice was overpowered by the chorus and orchestra.

However, she sang a deeply moving final scene. In fact, she portrayed an amazing dramatic arc and character development of Manon as the young naïve girl in Act one, the teenager in love in Act two, the sensual seductive woman in Acts three and four, and the resigned and abandoned to her fate poor soul in the final scene.

Celso Albelo’s Des Grieux

Spanish tenor Celso Albelo portrayed the naïve cavaliere Des Grieux. This lyrical tenor is widening his repertoire from the bel canto titles he has performed throughout his long career to more lyrical roles. Des Grieux was a logical choice for Albelo to debut. He posses a metallic bright timbre with astonishing projection. Albelo posses the ability to sing mezza voce, pianissmi, and ethereal diminueni throughout his whole register. His interpretation of “En fermant les yeux” was breathtaking. He sang this aria, written in the dangerous passaggio zone of the voice, in a continuous whisper. He delivered soaring pianissimi in his high A naturals, keeping his tenor timbre as he sang in mezza voce, rather than falsetto which is an easier option that tenors usually take. But, that would drastically change the timbre of his voice and diminish the projection. Therefore based on his choices, this aria was by far the highlight of Albelo’s performance.

Albelo takes advantage of his bel canto background by singing with fluid legato lines, clear and direct attack of the notes, and creating constant contrast between forte and piano up to high B natural. He delivers the several B flats and B naturals of this part effortlessly with respect to the “French style.”

His third act aria, “Ah! Fuyez!,” sounded easy. It was imprinted with sweet emotion and powerful attacks in the explosive moments. His voice possess a strange strong squillo and volume. He can sing the line “cet homme avait raison!” which demands phrasing in A naturals with a strong lyrical dramatism and power. His ringing voice was clearly heard in ensembles and his powerful high B natural and B flats in “o douler, l’avenir nous separe” sounded brightly over the soloist, chorus and orchestra singing in forte.

More About This Stellar Cast

Lescaut was sang by baritone Manel Esteve. He sang in pure French style with fluid phrasing and legato. He effortlessly naviaged an uncomfortable tessitura around E and F above the stave, a high tessitura for a baritone. But the role is quite ungrateful, as it does not have solo arias or interventions. Although, Esteve plays an important part of the plot. “Regardez moi bien dans les yeux” sounded lyrical, easy and sweet. He had a clean attack of the notes, avoiding portamenti or appoggiatura as the French style demands.

The great Italian bass Roberto Scandiuzzi played the short but important role of Le Comte des Grieux. Unfortunately, his voice has not aged well over the years. His timbre is unstable when he has to sustain notes which either sounded trembling or plain, but he still posses a big volume and projection giving the character the vocal weight which is needed. Scandiuzzi only sings a few spare lines with no important solo moments, but he demonstrated his stagecraft and stage presence. His legacy remains to be the great singer that he was.

The rest of the cast, all minor roles with few interventions, sang with in pure French style. Their voices were projected and they showcased strong acting qualities. It is also important to mention the participation of Moisés Marín as Guillot because it is difficult to find a tenor singing a secondary small role with such a warm timbre and strong projection. But after having performed secondary roles throughout his career, Marín debuted the devilish part of Rossini’s Pirro at the Rossini Opera Festival in Wildbad last season. He will also debut Mozart’s Belmonte at ABAO this current season, so I am sure that he will jump from secondary to principal roles and be recognized as the great tenor that he is.

The young Portuguese conductor Nuno Coelho lead the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias (OSPA). Coelho offered a lively reading of Massenet’s score, exposing the rich timbres and finding a perfect dramatic balance between the bright joyful moments in act one and act three, and the deep passionate melodies of most dramatic moments like the “Saint Sulpice” scene or the final act. His tempi were moderated and comfortable for the singers. He found harmony between the voices and the orchestra sound, and therefore the singers were clearly heard without decreasing the orchestra’s intensity. The opera was presented with minor cuts, including the absence of the ballet in act three. The participation of the Coro Titular de la Temporada de Ópera de Oviedo was brilliant, keeping the high standards that this formation always offers.

A beautiful and meaningful production with a splendid cast under the powerful labor of the young conductor Nuno Coelho, “Manon” truly commemorated the 75th anniversary of Ópera de Oviedo.


ReviewsStage Reviews