Highlight of the Munich season, Puccini Manon Lescaut with Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais. Saturday's performance was screened live on NDR, but you can catch the FULL audio-only transmission on BR Klassik HERE (click on the tiny little window). The Bayerischen Staatsoper pulled the video off their livestream programme at the last minute, but the film is in the can: perhaps we can hope for a DVD According to Die Welt, it's pretty good. Anna Netrebko pulled out at the last minute too, but her absence is no great loss: Opolais is sublime, even freer and more passionate than in London.
The same stars in two very different productions, which will be compared with each other for years to come (Rattle's Baden-Baden Manon Lescaut, despite an excellent Eva Maria Westbroek (reviewed here), doesn't come close). Antonio Pappano has the edge over Munich's Alain Altinoglu, though the latter is much more impressive in Puccini than he was in Don Giovanni (more here). Kaufmann and Opolais, however, are now confirmed as the dream pairing. Not only do they sing gloriously, but they respond to each other so well that the dynamic relationship seems extraordinarily real and personal. There's more to opera than good singing and acting: Kaufmann and Opolais stimulate each other, inspiring each other to ever greater heights. Netrebko is excellent, but she's also artist enough to know how well matched Kaufmann and Opolais are together.
The biggest difference is in the staging. The London production was directed by Jonathan Kent, who also created the ROH's very retro Tosca, and isn't a director known to shock. Yet it was attacked because it showed Manon in the sex trade. But what were they expecting? The whole premise of Abbé Prévost's plot is that she goes wrong because she sells sex for money and doesn't value love until it's too late. Please read my review of the London production HERE In Opera Today.
I haven't seen Hans Neuenfels' production yet, but he, too, is a director whose ideas come direct from the score itself, unorthodox as they may seem at first. Please see my piece on Neuenfels' Lohengrin. Everyone who reads a score "interprets" if they are making any kind of effort at all. The better the composer, the better the opera, the greater the potential for greater understanding. "Trust the composer" anti-moderns wail, but it is they who should trust the music and artistry. From stills (not the best guide to any production) Neuenfels' production seems austere, maybe a good thing since musically it's so strong. Most reports i've read so far are very positive. But some focus mainly on Kaufmann's beard. In real life, Kaufmann's very sexy and fairly hairy, so why shouldn't he have a beard when he's playing a character with intense sexual feelings?