Saturday, July 20, 2024

Nicoletta Manni and Reece Clarke excel in MacMillan’s L’histoire de Manon at Milan’s La Scala – Seen and Heard Worldwide


ItalyItaly Kenneth MacMillan’s L’histoire de Manon: Dancers and Orchestra of La Scala Theatre Ballet / Paul Connelly (conductor). Broadcast dwell (directed by Stefania Grimaldi) from La Scala, Milan, 8.7.2024. (JPr)

Nicoletta Manni (Manon) and Reece Clarke (Des Grieux)

Manufacturing:
Choreography – Kenneth Macmillan
Music – Jules Massenet
Association and Orchestration – Martin Yates
Units and Costumes – Nicholas Geōrgiadīs
Restaged by Julie Lincoln

Solid included:
Manon – Nicoletta Manni
Des Grieux – Reece Clarke
Lescaut – Nicola Del Freo
Monsieur G.M. – Gabriele Corrado
Lescaut’s Mistress – Martina Arduino
Madame – Francesca Podini
The Gaoler – Gioacchino Starace
Beggar Chief – Domenico Di Cristo

Typically you don’t must assume an excessive amount of about what you might be seeing and simply go alongside for the trip. We dwell in a world the place there are set off warnings about nearly every little thing it appears. The most recent within the UK is that the TV detective sequence Midsomer Murders (recognized in some international locations as Barnaby) could comprise murders! I’ve at all times left others to resolve about famed choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon – first danced by The Royal Ballet in 1974 – which may be very a lot of its time and a extra harmless world.

The story originated in Abbé Prévost’s 1731 novel, and the setting is eighteenth-century Paris the place it appears individuals had been both wealthy and highly effective, taking a very eager curiosity within the lives of the ladies on the fringes of respectable society, or poor and destitute with criminality or prostitution the one escape routes from their plight. What MacMillan has left us with is actually a riches-to-rags story as a result of it’s mirrored by the late Nicholas Georgiadis’s designs with the virtually ever-present backdrop of rags to contextualise all of the opulence and finery we’ll see earlier than it, at the very least within the first two acts. It begins within the bustling courtyard of an inn close to Paris the place there are beggars scrounging cash the place they’ll and courtesans parade round and can be found to the person with probably the most to supply. One of many fantastic issues about this La Scala efficiency was watching, due to the digicam close-ups, these on the fringes of the motion at all times doing a little ‘enterprise’ and making what we noticed much more attention-grabbing.

The primary two overlong acts are populated with prancing ‘ladies of unwell reputation’ pleased to supply sexual gratification to wealthy older males earlier than their downfall is rushed via within the considerably shorter Act III. Manon Lescaut is a teen who can’t resolve between the real love of the penniless Des Grieux, or the loveless luxurious supplied by wealthy roués foisted on her by her feckless brother, Lescaut. Manon is seemingly content material to be exploited and her character’s arc in the course of the ballet is from the convent-bound ingénue to kept-woman of foot-fetishist Monsieur G.M. and somebody who’s in thrall to her ill-gotten beneficial properties. Manon ultimately decides to flee Paris and after a sequence of unlucky occasions – together with serving to Des Grieux cheat to win cash enjoying playing cards after which witnessing the demise of her pimping brother – it has deadly penalties. Manon finally ends up as a convict who suffers the degrading and demeaning intercourse acts of her gaoler earlier than dying within the swamps of Louisiana nonetheless cherished by Des Grieux who she had earlier handled so callously.

It was the kind of darkish story which enormously appealed to MacMillan, having a far-from-happy ending in comparison with many well-liked fairy-tale ballets. The extra occasions I watch his Manon, the extra it’s clear he’s recycling parts seen earlier than in his legendary 1965 Romeo and Juliet.

MacMillan had been suggested to keep away from the opera scores of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Massenet’s personal Manon and selected a number of the latter composer’s lesser-known music. Conductor, composer and former dancer, Leighton Lucas, was tasked with compiling and orchestrating a number of Massenet’s music and was assisted by pianist Hilda Gaunt. It was subsequently reorchestrated in 2011 by Martin Yates and that’s what was heard at this efficiency. It’s typically troublesome to close your eyes and picture something like you might be seeing once you open them once more and I’ve taken difficulty with this prior to now. One among Massenet’s best-known tunes – the beautiful and reflective Élégie – is integrated into every of the three acts and in Act II there may be an excessive amount of Spanish and Arabian music and later in Act III, because the convicts apparently wilt within the New Orleans warmth, the music reaches lush – and fairly inappropriate – romantic heights. Nevertheless, none of this appeared to matter as a lot now, maybe this was resulting from excellence of the orchestra – as heard via loudspeakers – beneath the baton of Paul Connelly.

MacMillan’s Manon has solos, duets, trios, difficult decrease physique work, extravagant lifts, glides and slides, in addition to a lot rolling, dropping to ground and leaping for the townspeople and beggars. It stays a richly textured ballet and Girl Deborah MacMillan as soon as revealed how the choreography was impressed by her late husband’s obsession with ice skating. The destitution, depravity and need are all just a bit too sanitised for 2024 despite the fact that Georgiadis’s units and a few of his costumes had been wanting now fairly appropriately dusty and tacky.

Reece Clarke (Des Grieux) and Nicoletta Manni (Manon)

The La Scala Theatre Ballet firm have power in depth and there have been some very superb performances. Nicola Del Freo was a dramatically-credible Lescaut, the good-looking charmer who – with out compunction – pimps and swindles his approach via life. His Act II ‘drunken’ pas de deux with Martina Arduino was nearly as good as I’ve seen it.  I don’t assume I’ve seen Manon danced and acted higher within the many efficiency I’ve seen since first I noticed MacMillan’s model in 1980. The excellent Nicoletta Manni created an actual individual onstage: there was the coquettishness of somebody naively prepared to be bought by her brother to the very best bidder, then her youthful and all-consuming ardour for Des Grieux, earlier than the garments and jewelry Monsieur G.M. gives turns her head. There was loads of angst in Act III, although one of many ballet’s failings is that there appears little evident regret or remorse for her doomed hapless lover whom she has dragged right into a murky world of brothels, playing and brutality.

How fantastic it was to see present Royal Ballet principal – the tall and long-limbed – Reece Clarke guesting as Des Grieux. I used to be stunned he was not a barely higher actor, however he in any other case didn’t disappoint. Clarke was suitably boyish, naïve and prepared to be ensnared by Manon after which dragged down by her. Clarke bought a number of craving or anguished solos to show a formidable expertise from the very first one which showed-off his means to show ever-so slowly, dance ‘off centre’ and mildew the steps into one completely pure – and seamless – arc of motion. For as soon as the well-known Act I bed room scene didn’t seem like a brother and sister mucking round however two younger lovers giving in to their urges. As anticipated from Clarke, not too long ago Natalia Osipova’s common companion, his partnering of Manni was glorious. Their remaining moments collectively within the Louisianan swamp was equally spectacular in each approach. Manon is clinging to life – her hallucinations conjure up nightmarish photos of her previous life – and he’s simply clinging to hope. Manon’s demise appeared to launch a torrent of emotion from Clarke which he had by some means repressed earlier than.

There have been a number of different strong performances: of be aware, had been Domenico Di Cristo’s fleet-footed, Beggar Chief and Martina Arduino who made a substantial impression as Lescaut’s louche and long-suffering Mistress. The assembled courtesans and harlots – costumed in russet and significantly harking back to MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet – had been suitably playful, aggressive and sluttish, presided over by Francesca Podini’s unscrupulous Madame. Gabriele Corrado’s intimidating Monsieur G. M. had no redeeming options in any way and was a sexual deviant trying to find any new pleasures his wealth might get for him. Lastly, Gioacchino Starace was the bullying and sadistic penal colony Gaoler, a callous person and abuser of girls, who forces himself on the exhausted Manon. In 2024 this definitely now appears MacMillan’s pointless – and gratuitously disagreeable – addition to the unique Abbé Prévost story.

Jim Pritchard

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