Photo Journal: Natalie Dessay Reprises Her Manon in Chicago

Classic Arts Features   Photo Journal: Natalie Dessay Reprises Her Manon in Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago started up its 2008/2009 season in style with director David McVicar's production of Manon, headed by two of opera's most sought-after and explosive stars: Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kaufmann.

Dessay steps once more into the title role of the "naive but irresistible country girl who ruins her own life and her lover's through reckless pursuit of passion and wealth." This staging of the Massenet favorite - originally created for the English National Opera - is the same Manon that Dessay famously performed in Barcelona opposite Rolando Villaz‹n (released on DVD by Virgin Classics/EMI in 2007).

The soprano - one of the top divas currently traversing the international opera stage - lists Manon as just one of her many signature roles. Others, to name just a few, are Marie in La Fille du r_giment, Amina in La sonnambula and Pamina in Die Zauberfl‹te.

The French soprano, known for her high-flying coloratura acrobatics and increasing dramatic versatility, previously starred at the Lyric in a 2004 Lucia di Lammermoor- a performance about which the Chicago Tribune proclaimed, "She came, she saw, she conquered... the ovation Dessay received was one of the longest and loudest in recent Lyric history."

In a similarly complimentary review this time around, the publication wrote about her Manon, "How so much voice and so much emotional force can pour out of a person as tiny as Natalie Dessay should be one of the great mysteries of the opera world. The much-in-demand French soprano compounded that mystery as the title character in Manon. Dessay easily held the audience in the palm of one very petite hand from the moment she stepped on stage."

Following her run in the Windy City, Dessay will kick off 2009 singing her first Pell_as et M_lisande in Vienna. In March she will return once more to the Met to perform a brand new Mary Zimmerman-directed Sonnambula opposite Juan Diego Fl‹rez- a run that is nearly sold out at press time.

Also receiving critical praise is the opera's leading man, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Des Grieux, who was described as "handsome enough to make their love at first sight convincing and strong enough vocally to blend with her." With lauded performances at Covent Garden and the Met under his belt, the Munich native will enjoy a homecoming this summer when he performs the title role in Wagner's Lohengrin with the Bavarian State Opera at the city's Opera Festival.

The cast also features a host of established American talents: baritone Christopher Feigum as Manon's loutish cousin Lescaut, tenor David Cangelosi as the lecherous nobleman Guillot de Morfontaine, baritone Jake Gardner as the aristocrat De Bretigny and bass Raymond Aceto as des Grieux's father. Kathryn Leemhuis, Katherine Lerner and Andriana Chuchman portray the actresses Rosette, Javotte and Pousette.

The creative team consists of Tanya McCallin (sets and costumes) and Paule Constable (lights). Emmanuel Villaume conducts the orchestra.

Manon plays its final performance Friday, Oct. 31, at 7:30. Click here for tickets and info.

Running concurrently, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers - starring Nicole Cabell and Nathan Gunn - continues through Nov. 4. Next up on the season schedule: prize-winning German soprano Marlis Petersen sings the title role of Alban Berg's Lulu opposite her countryman, bass-baritone Wolfgang Sch‹ne. Performances begin Nov. 7.

For further information on the Lyric Opera's 2008/2009 season and access to the company's expansive selection of podcasts and other supplemental materials, visit Lyric Opera of Chicago.

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Photos by Robert Kusel and Dan Rest for Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Manon (Natalie Dessay) and Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann) meet and fall in love while she awaits her coach to the convent

Natalie Dessay as Manon and Jonas Kaufmann as Des Grieux
Guillot de Morfontaine (David Cangelosi) meets Manon (Natalie Dessay)

Manon (Natalie Dessay) and Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann) read aloud a letter he has written asking his father's permission to marry
Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kaufmann

Manon (Natalie Dessay) realizes that although she loves Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann), she cannot resist Br_tigny's offer to live a life of luxury.

A newly-wealthy Manon (Natalie Dessay) celebrates her life as Br_tigny's mistress

Br_tigny (Jake Gardner) looks at an unimpressed Manon (Natalie Dessay) as dancers from the Op_ra perform for her

Manon (Natalie Dessay, center) is surrounded by the actresses Rosette (Kathryn Leemhuis), Javotte (Katherine Lerner) and Pousette (Andriana Chuchman)

Lescaut (Christopher Feigum) and Manon (Natalie Dessay) both encourage Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann) to gamble at the Hêätel Transylvanie

Guillot de Morfontaine (David Cangelosi) accuses Des Grieux (Jonas Kaufmann) of cheating at cards

Tanya McCallin's set and costume design for Act IV of Manon

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