New to opera blog (Part 2)

Posted on Gwen, 2014-02-07 17:00 by Backstage

Hello opera lovers! I’m Louise Morris, the new Marketing and Press Intern at Welsh National Opera. So, on Wednesday I attended the dress rehearsal of Trelinski’s production of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Wales Millennium Centre. As I sat eagerly in my seat, the atmosphere was palatable amongst the audience; there were people of all backgrounds in attendance, from students to the elderly in their Sunday best. At first, I will admit to feeling rather intimidated by the proceedings; although I have attended the theatre throughout my life, the opera seemed like a totally alien experience in comparison. However as I could see, everyone was in good spirits, eager to see what Trelinski’s interpretation of Manon had in store for us that evening.

As the lights dimmed, the stage came alive with a range of provocative imagery, amongst a backdrop of a modern-day train station; as previously mentioned in my last blog, a part of me was expecting “...fat men and women in powdered wigs” but as I discovered, I was lucky they even had clothes on. However, I must add that this did not come across as a clichéd attempt to ramp up audience figures through the dreaded ‘shock factor’ many mediums of art suffer from these days – such raw imagery felt right amongst the backdrop of what came across as a dog-eat-dog world that our characters had the misfortune of being caught up in. It didn’t feel cheap. Of course what we, the audience, must remember from our padded seats on high is that these sorts of situations happen every day, all over the world. Therefore, I applaud Trelinski for not shying away from visually representing such a disturbing topic. The prison scene in Act Three, of which I will refer to as the "Cattle Market" scene,  was a prime example of the sort of message Trelinski was trying to put across to his audience – slavery, of any form or the mistreatment of prisoners for instance, aren’t crimes that strictly belong in the deepest, darkest corners of  our history. They are often closer than you think and provide real food for thought concerning how we, as a society, function from a moral standpoint. To an extent, I believe our society hasn’t changed too dramatically since the inception of Manon Lescaut in the 1800s. This scene in particular also had the hint of modern celebrity about it, warning of the perils that come along with beauty and ego, as displayed by the catwalk-like movement of the actors on stage.

The characters came alive on stage, especially Stephen David Richardson’s Geronte, who was excellent at depicting such a loathsome and power-addled character – I’m sure that if Geronte could spit venom, then he would. I also felt particularly connected to our protagonists, Manon and De Grieux, played by the wonderful Chiara Taigi and Gwyn Hughes Jones – the emotional torture experienced by De Grieux and the promiscuously heartbreaking nature of Manon, a woman in permanent self-destruct mode, was fascinating to watch. As a literature graduate, I couldn’t help but make comparisons to the most famous of star-crossed lovers, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. However, this tale of forbidden love was much more tragic: the worst that would have happened to Juliet, had she not committed suicide, was to be married off to some rich suitor. Manon paid the ultimate price for pursuing the course of true love – to boil it down to its most logical form; Manon came off worse for wear, as did De Grieux, now haunted by the love he failed to save. However, love isn’t logical and the themes of love and passion had extended to members of the audience too; there were an array of couples attending the production last night – married couples, old couples, first-daters... I myself sat next to a rather wonderful, young and thoroughly loved-up Italian couple. Now, a cynic would say that they were all plants, put there by Trelinski & Co. to ramp up the atmosphere amongst the audience! But, in all honesty, from what I witnessed last night, such a stunt would never be needed. After all, the nature of the Opera is just like being young and in love: dramatic, passionate and dangerous, often with a bit of secrecy thrown in for good measure.

As an opera virgin, Manon Lescaut was a real eye-opener into how diverse the world of opera really is. The majority of the pre-conceptions I had concerning the genre were all proven to be incorrect. It is a medium that has often been portrayed incorrectly to certain generations on certain social scales. Different interpretations of such classic operas, like Trelinski has done with Manon Lescaut, acts as a great foundation into introducing people to this particular art form. So, does this mean that I will swap my Ellie Goulding and Coldplay CDs for some Verdi and Puccini? Not necessarily, but I now have a greater interest, understanding and appreciation for what the genre entails, along with the hard work and dedication that it’s performers, producers, directors, stage managers and an entire organisation such as the Welsh National Opera puts in to these productions. I am now eager to see Verdi’s La Traviata with director David McVicar at the helm, a more traditional opera from the organisation.