Latest Review – Manon [English National Ballet] [Opera House, Manchester]

Photo: Alina Cojocaru & Joseph Caley in Manon © Laurent Liotardo


English National Ballet

Opera House, Manchester

Until Saturday 20th October 2018

Between 1884 and 1893, Abbé Prévost’s controversial and previously banned 1731 novel, Manon Lescaut, inspired a pair of hugely popular opera adaptations by two giants of Nineteenth Century opera: the first, Jules Massenet’s Manon, and the latter, Giacomo Puccini’s frequently performed Manon Lescaut.

First performed by the Royal Ballet back in 1974, Kenneth MacMillan’s sumptuous ballet adaptation of the tale also features a Massenet score, though surprisingly not the one featured in the opera. In fact, MacMillan enlisted the relatively unknown composer Leighton Lucas and pianist Hilda Gaunt to create a sweeping new score using Massenet’s numerous other lesser-known compositions; one that has since been magnificently re-arranged and re-orchestrated by Martin Yates.

English National Ballet’s irresistible production – created for the Royal Danish Ballet and here performed outside of London for just the second time in over thirty years – makes excellent use of Mia Stensgaard’s minimalist and distraction-free stage designs to highlight the emotion and seductive passion of the tragic tale, as well as MacMillan’s expressive and hugely demanding choreography.

Built around a narrative structure that faintly echoes MacMillan’s earlier Royal Ballet creation, Romeo and Juliet, Manon is perhaps a little unusual in the fact that it charts the central couple’s ultimately tragic relationship through a series of increasingly powerful pas de deux, with the other principles, soloists and corps largely employed in character and almost physical theatre type roles to drive the story in between the pas de deux.

Making their debuts in the principal roles of Manon and Des Grieux, Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley perform with exceptional skill and intense, palpable emotion, both appearing utterly drained at the final curtain. Cojocaru’s delicate and wonderfully nuanced interpretation is impressively matched by a strong and assured perfomance from Caley, with each complementing the other to glorious effect.

Also making his role debut, Jeffrey Cirio excels as Manon’s brother, Lescaut, giving real depth to the role and particularly impressing during his entertaining and skilfully rendered drunken sequences during Act II.

James Streeter is strong as the wealthy and detestable Monsieur GM, performing with a suitable pomposity, and there is fine work from the full company, though a lack of variety during some of the grouped tableau sequences can feel a tad repetitive.

Accompanied by a stellar performance from the English National Ballet Philharmonic, under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, Kenneth MacMillan’s great ballet remains an evocative and multi-layered masterpiece, and English National Ballet’s thrilling and captivating production proves unmissable.

Running Times:

Act I – 40 minutes (approx.)

Interval – 20 minutes

Act II – 50 minutes (approx.)

Interval – 20 minutes

Act III – 30 minutes (approx.)

Total: 2 hours and 40 minutes (approx.) (excluding bows)

Final Performance at the Opera House, Manchester: Saturday 20th October 2018

For more information and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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