When life and art collide

Art imitates life. Truth is stranger than fiction. You can’t make this stuff up.

These familiar quotes apply to The Dallas Opera’s current production of Jules Massenet’s (1842-1912) “Manon.”

Manon and Chevalier.jpg
Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello as star-crossed lovers in Massenet’s “Manon,” closing Saturday at The Dallas Opera. (Karen Almond, Dallas Opera)

Most companies have to book artists years in advance, so they had no way to know their two principal singers, Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello, married in 2008, would separate in 2015 and be in the process of divorcing when the production opened for 4 performances last week.

“Manon,” closing Saturday at The Winspear Opera House in Arts District, tells the story of an innocent country girl on her way to life in a convent when her head is turned by the lure of Paris.

First, Manon (Perez) runs away with the penniless Chevalier (Costello), who loves her beyond measure.

When Chevalier’s father cuts them off from the family fortune, Manon moves in with a wealthy tax collector.

The heartbroken Chevalier turns to the church, deciding to become a priest. Manon gets wind of Chevalier’s plans and seduces him into abandoning his vows, convincing him to live with her and gamble for a living.

Manon - death.jpg
Manon’s death scene in Act V was heart-wrenching. (Karen Almond, Dallas Opera)

It’s high-octane opera, so there is no happy ending. Manon dies in a distraught Chevalier’s arms as the curtain falls on Act V.

No mention was made of the two singers’ personal lives in the pre-publicity stories I saw or in the reviews of opening night, so I had no idea of their on-going drama until I read up on them on Google.

I just knew Costello sang his heart out, almost literally. When he took his curtain call, he stood there, absolutely spent, clutching his chest. He soaked up the audience’s warm reception, his deep bow lasting longer than usual. He left it all on the stage.

Perez played her part a little more carefully. In great voice, she handled the difficult demands of the role, but seemed to lack the fire we saw when she lit up the stage as Tatyana in “Great Scott” last year. I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to get through the required rehearsals and four performances.

And, the drama’s not over for this pair. They will team up again for “Romeo et Juliet” this summer in Santa Fe and they’ll be in TDO’s fall performance of “Eugene Onegin.” Bless their hearts.

Costello will reprise his role as Greenhorn in TDO’s “Moby Dick” next season, too. I’m hoping to land an interview with this promising young man. Stay tuned.

TDO’s orchestra and chorus were in top form Sunday. Music Director Emeritus Graeme Jenkins led the 3-hour and 45-minute performance with a strong and steady hand. It was nice to see him back in the pit.

This production relies on the presence of voyeurs in almost every scene, requiring a huge cast of characters from the chorus. As a group, they were effective, not creepy. As individuals, they moved around with surety and purpose. And they sounded fabulous. Bravo to Chorus Master Alexander Rom and his hard-working crew.

The Ballet - ManonIf you go, please be advised of adult content in Act III’s ballet (Karen Almond, Dallas Opera) and Act IV’s casino scene. I understand the need to be hip, but the S&M vignette and the obvious visual joke done with the male dancers’ swords distracted from the beautiful music, soaring vocals, set design and costuming.

Mary Dibbern
Mary Dibbern

Try to arrive an hour-and-a-half early enough to get a much coveted seat to TDO’s pre-opera talks. World-recognized Massenet scholar Mary Dibbern, who also serves as the company’s Music Director, and Theatre Jones’ critic Gregory Sullivan Issacs teamed up to present a lively and informative overview of this production. What a gift these talks are to TDO’s audiences. No wonder they have to bring in additional seating.

For tickets to Saturday night’s performance, call 214-443-1000. Prices begin at $19 and go up to $119. There’s not a bad seat in the house.

LeBlanc - USE THIS ONE - ManonOn a personal note: Tenor Don LeBlanc (standing in front wearing an apron), a member of TDO’s renown chorus, was featured recently during a benefit for the Olivarria family at Tinney’s Chapel United Methodist Church. It was great to see him on stage during Sunday’s matinee. He was totally engaged and committed to his role as an partying onlooker. (Karen Almond, Dallas Opera)

 

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