We first meet her in the company of her brother, Lescaut, chaperoning her to a convent near Paris.The ruthless brother, however, noting the salacious interest his sister attracts when they stop for refreshment at an inn, manages to “sell” her to the highest bidder, a rich old man. At the same time, Manon herself is lining up her chances with a dashing young student, Des Grieux.
From then on, the story turns on her vacillations between her love for Des Grieux, and her ultimately fatal love of money, played out in scenes showing the precarious division between opulence and degradation in pre-revolutionary Paris.
MacMillan, though, found new sympathy with the capricious Manon, and brought his customary psychological insight and the memories of his own impoverished upbringing to this intense, sometimes lyrical, often sexy and ultimately harrowing work, which features some of his most sublime romantic pas-de-deux.
Steering clear of the music of Massenet and Puccini, both of whom had composed operas on the subject of Manon Lescaut, the choreographer chose for his ballet lesser-known material by Massenet. It’s a tuneful and attractive score and it serves the story well.
Nicholas Georgiadis’s designs are spectacular, with tiers of rags decking the entire back wall in the first two acts. Demi-monde characters flaunt their finery while beggars, thieves and prostitutes ply their trades. Between formal dance numbers (some of them quite erotic), the stage teems with naturalistic movement.
Dancers clamour for roles in this ballet, even for minor characters. But the title role has become a career-must for every ambitious actress-ballerina.
No fewer than nine Royal Ballet ballerinas are being fielded in this autumn season, mostly with two performances each. Only Marianela Nuñez (who gets the first night, even though she made her debut in this role only last time out, in 2011) has been allocated three. Partnered by elegant Federico Bonelli, her Manon is rich in dramatic nuance.
For Lauren Cuthbertson, by contrast, the key will be movement. She goes at her first bedroom scene with Des Grieux at a reckless speed, one sensual experience tumbling after another.
However, the most anticipated performance is likely to be that of the new jewel in the crown, Natalia Osipova, making her Royal Ballet debut in the role. She has danced Manon to great acclaim in Milan before joining the company last year. There might not be a Royal Opera House dress code, but that will be a performance worth dressing up for.
|What||The Royal Ballet's Manon, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
26 Sep 14 – 01 Nov 14, matinees 12:00, 12:30, 13:00; 14:30
|Website||Click here for more information|