Manon, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2014Posted on 27 September 2014
First seen in March 1974 this ballet has aged beautifully, and opening night of the current run fully recaptured the vivacity and despair of the story.
Marianela Nuñez’s subtle development of Manon’s character, from the gentle grace of her first entrance in Act I to the femme dangereuse of Act II and eventually the victim of forces she cannot control in Act III, is riveting to watch. She inhabits the role with a freshness that gives a strange beauty to the Act I pas-de-trois with Monsieur G.M. and her brother Lescaut, and brought to life, and eventually death, her various pas-de-deux with Federico Bonelli. His characterisation of Des Grieux hit just the right level of naiveté and passion, with superb partnering of Nuñez.
Manon destroys three principal men in this ballet: the outstandingly portrayed Lescaut of Ricardo Cervera, the assertively handsome Gaoler of Gary Avis, and Des Grieux himself. Only the shrewdly amoral Monsieur G.M. of Christopher Saunders avoids the fate dispensed by this femme fatale, but in the meantime we see wonderful vignettes. Yuhui Choe and Helen Crawford were beautifully sassy courtesans, Elizabeth McGorian a commandingly elegant Madam, and Laura Morera superb as Lescaut’s mistress. In Act II they managed the drunk scene together with brash finesse, and for Manon’s solo, Nuñez combined gaiety with a wistful loneliness.
These individual performances combined to form a dramatic whole brilliantly supported by the orchestra under the baton of Martin Yates. For the previous run of this ballet at Covent Garden in 2011 he re-orchestrated the music, adding a short interlude in Act III where the stage goes dark before the scene between the gaoler and Manon, so well realised here by Avis and Nuñez.
Conducting of ballet has not always been an unqualified success at Covent Garden in recent years, but things are looking up, and Yates conducts all performances in the current run. These continue with various casts until November 1, including a live cinema relay on October 16 — for details click here.