Friday, January 19, 2024

Capsule Review: Great voices highlight "Manon Lescaut" at Winter Opera

Joseph Park, Zoya Gramagin
Photo: ProPhotoSTL

Wednesday night I attended a dress rehearsal of Winter Opera’s production of Puccini’s 1894 blockbuster hit “Manon Lescaut.” Performances are tonight and Sunday (January 19 and 21) and if what I heard at the rehearsal is any indication, audiences will be mightily impressed by the high quality of the singing. There’s not a weak vocal link in the cast and the chorus is its usual reliable self, with the singers all creating individual characters while maintaining a solid ensemble sound.

In the title role, soprano Zoya Gramagin displays a rich, powerful voice that is an excellent match for wide emotional and musical range of the part. As the tragic Chavalier des Grieux, Taylor P. Comstock sounds very much like a classic heldentenor with ringing high notes. Bass-baritone Joseph Park, an alumnus of Opera Theatre’s prestigious Young Artists program last year, is Manon’s sugar daddy Geronte. He’s a skilled actor with an imposing voice, but he’s clearly far too young for the role, the somewhat unconvincing grey wig notwithstanding.

Zoya Gramagin, Taylor P. Comstock
Photo: ProPhotoSTL

Tenor Thomas M. Taylor IV gets the evening off to rousing start as the songwriter Edmondo, who leads the chorus in the jolly “Ave sera gentil” (“Hail gentle evening”), neatly setting the tone for the seriocomic first act.

The rehearsal was a bit rocky otherwise, so it’s hard to say what the final product will look like this weekend. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

Besides, this will be a chance for local audiences to see a Puccini opera which, despite its initial success, has since been largely eclipsed by the more coherent and tuneful works that came after it, mostly notably “Tosca,” “La Bohème,” and “Madama Butterfly.” This was Winter Opera’s first production, for example, and Opera Theatre has never taken it on at all. Performances are tonight at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 pm at the Kirkwood Performing Arts center.

No comments: