Lescaut - April 2002
is Kentish Opera at its very best
A reproduction of a raunchy brothel scene
by the renowned l8th-Century artist Hogarth adorned the cover
of the programme for the recent production of Puccini's opera
Manon Lescaut at the Churchill Theatre. In terms of its Rubenesque
colours, its decadence and vitality, there were elements of the
opening act that mirrored the painting with uncanny accuracy.
Set designer Enid
Strutt's initial setting of a square in Amiens during the early
1700s was breathtaking.
Carol Stevenson's costume design made the stage look like a living
scene from the past - teeming with activity as street traders
and harlots peddled their wares, children played, men sipped
their beer, and the women scurried around.
This was Kentish
Opera and artistic director Sally Langford at their best.
As Manon Lescaut, soprano
Elaine McKrill sang and acted the role with a passion and clarity
of voice that could not be faulted. And tenor David Newman made
the perfect romantic and artistic partner for Puccini's tragic
heroine. James Bobby excelled as Manon's brother and there were
several delightful cameo roles.
The enormous chorus
was disciplined and impressive and the orchestra added a further
touch of professionalism to the event under its conductor Stephen
Kentish Times, 17th May 2002
from one of the audience
I'm not in the
habit of writing fan letters, which may have to do with the fact
that I'm a hopeless musical snob and very hard to please! But
I am driven to put finger to keyboard because I was so amazed
and so stunned by the performance of Manon Lescaut I saw on Friday.
I was so tired that evening that I thought I might stay for only
one act. But within two minutes of listening to the glossy, assured
sounds from the orchestra pit I realised I would be pinned to
my seat for the entire show. The committed musicianship of that
young orchestra is phenomenal and would have made the composer
The sets were also
a delight, being handsome, appropriate and completely practical.
Which makes them ineligible for the major opera stages, but a
relief for the audience. The costumes too were exceptionally
The chorus singing
and movement were excellent, as were the soloists, some of whom
I shall certainly hope to hear again.
I do congratulate
you on presenting your Bromley audience with a superlative show,
from every point of view. I look forward to the next one!
by Mark Fitz-Gerald for 'Words and Music'
I was once advised
by a well known Italian conductor 'Never do 'Manon Lescaut' -
if the chorus don't go wrong in Act 1 they certainly will in
Act 3 - it's too difficult! Puccini had had no serious recognition
in his career as a composer until this opera and it is as if
he threw all possible technical and emotional resources into
this work in order to ensure success (which it did) rather as
Britten was to do years later with 'Peter Grimes'. It is interesting
to note that neither composer was to make such extremes on his
chorus again after these works.
All the more credit
that despite much individual characterisation and complex movement,
the Kentish Opera chorus seemed so at ease with the music and
that they sounded as if they had known it all their lives! Thanks
to the conductor Stephen Harris' secure guidance the music flowed
along at a natural pace, easing the action along.
Under Sally Langford's
direction we witnessed a wealth of human types and individuals
in all the ensemble scenes, as well as a vivid reading of all
the main characters, with a climax brought almost to complete
fulfilment in the Act 2 love duet!
It is rare that
the set and costume design create such a delight to the senses
as to provoke spontaneous applause when the curtain opens at
the start of an act. This was certainly the case on the night
I attended thanks to the work of Enid Strutt (set design) and
Carol Stevenson (costume design).
was well matched to the role of Manon. Despite a slightly light
voice she soared over the orchestra with ease. Her acting was
surprisingly fine considering she rarely had moments when she
could respond to her Des Grieux. This part was taken by Jim Heath
who, despite a very capable voice seemed to give most of his
concentration to his singing in the final scene where we had
a more integrated performance. Kevin Sharp was a strong and convincing
Lescaut, Paul Hodges an imposing Geronte and John Bailey a clearly
sung and characterised Edmondo.
The Dancing Master,
Randy Nichol, well groomed by Terry John Bates, was highly entertaining
.as was Richard Camp's Hairdresser. The Madrigal Singers interlude
was also highly effective.
If only the audience
could have matched the performance. Despite the low turnout,
the reception was more than enthusiastic.