By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — MONTREAL — From poverty to luxury, convent to gambling hall — the opera is back in town.
Opera de Montreal closes its 33rd season with “Manon” by Jules Massenet with a four-performance run beginning Saturday.
Dubbed “an absolute masterpiece of the French repertoire,” “Manon” follows Manon Lescant, who, in 18th century France, is on her way to spend the rest of her life in a convent. Things take a dramatic turn when Manon meets and falls for poor man Chevalier des Grieux and then gets seduced by rich man Monsieur de Bretigny.
The work stars Quebec soprano Marianne Fiset, who reprises the role in which she debuted at Opera Bastille last year; Portuguese tenor Bruno Ribeiro as Chevalier des Grieux; Canadian bass-baritone Gordon Bintner as Lescaut, Manon’s cousin; and Alexandre Sylvestre as Monsieur de Bretigny.
“I’m very pleased with the cast,” Opera de Montreal artistic director Michel Beaulac said. “The cast is extremely youthful — very young, fresh — which gives us an appropriate atmosphere of the story and the time. It exudes all the lightness and the very French quality of Massenet’s music. Marianne and Bruno are simply enchanting as the two lovers. And Gordon is extraordinary.”
Beaulac said it’s important to have an age-appropriate cast.
“You can just see how the entire cast is having so much fun on the stage,” Beaulac said. “It’s a very joyful atmosphere. And touching at the same time.”
The work is conducted by French native Fabien Gabel, who was recently appointed music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec.
“He’s terrific as a conductor and a great colleague,” Beaulac said. “And he’s really into that music. It’s his music.”
Brian Deedrick handles the task of stage director.
“The staging is very complex, very detailed,” Beaulac said. “It underlines the naiveté of Manon and the whole situation until it turns darker at the end.”
The turn for the worse unfolds on stage in a subtle way as Manon goes from good girl to gambling her life away.
“There really is a progression, a transformation that you can see of Manon and des Grieux from the very first encounter they have full of innocence to the decadent end of the work,” Beaulac said.
This one is full of internal demons and lots of dirty laundry.
“Oh, yes, well, there’s a lot of that in the world,” Beaulac quipped.
Beaulac said that Massenet’s version of “Manon” is slightly different than Puccini’s take.
“Puccini’s ‘Manon’ is already more tragic right from the beginning,” Beaulac said. “The music is heavier even in the first act. It’s not as light as Massenet’s. You don’t see that nice progression.”
Beaulac calls this production “overall very well-rounded.”
“This will be a nice treat for our operagoers,” he said.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "Manon" WHEN: Curtain call is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18; Tuesday, May 21; Thursday, May 23; and Saturday, May 25. WHERE: Place des Arts, 175 St. Catherine St. W. (Metro station Place des Arts), Montreal. ADMISSION: Adult tickets range from about $51 to $127. Discounts are available for students and those 18 to 30. CONTACT: Call the Place des Arts box office at (866) 842-2112. Also visit www.pda.qc.ca or www.operademontreal.com. NOTE: To follow along, the work features English and French "surtitles" positioned over the stage proscenium.