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REVIEW: “Manon” by Jules Massenet

REVIEW: “Manon” by Jules Massenet


(All photos courtesy of Alexi Molden.)

As a journalist, there is a vast range of topics to pursue, but when I was asked to review my first Opera, I did not know what to expect. I didn’t want to spoil the show by watching other performances of “Manon.” Rather, I indulged in the experience as something new in an unfamiliar setting to me. 

“Manon” by Jules Massenet, presented by Boulder Opera, had showings at the Dairy Arts Center on February 18th and 19th. Located off of 28th Street and Walnut Street in Boulder, Colorado, the show’s devoted cast and crew ingeniously incorporated traditional elements of drama and tragedy into their reimagined show.

Manon is a French girl sent by her father to Paris to join the Convent. With a rebellious need to be free, Manon runs away with a man who offers her the prospect of marriage. She then finds herself fleeing once again to live amongst Parisian elites. After a series of reunifications, mishaps, and illness, Manon — bound for deportation— dies in the arms of her lover: The Chevalier Des Grieux.

The Dairy Arts Center offers a few different theaters with the largest housing 250 guests. For reference, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Center of Performing Arts can hold 2,200 spectators. This cozy setting is one of the many reasons to attend the Dairy Arts Center. The size of the theaters wasn’t a hindrance to the performance at all.

In fact, “Manon” was a much more intimate experience than any other musical or play. The performers and audience were separated by only a few feet of carpet. There were many times during the show when protagonist Manon, played by Amy Maples, seemed to be singing directly to you. Her eyes would lock onto someone in the audience, and with the swift movements of her voice, you would become entranced in the sound.

Brief pauses in between the show’s acts and scenes allowed the audience to watch the changing of the scenery. This is often done off stage or behind a closed curtain, but Stage Manager, Courtney Navarre, made an experience of this crucial behind the scenes work.

The theater’s acoustics made this incredible performance possible. I was immersed in the story because of the singers. Their high notes would hit the walls and create beautiful overtones that  layered perfectly. The notes’ arms wrapped themselves around the audience. Their energy exposed our emotions as we empathize with poor Manon.

The audience’s proximity to the orchestra gave a similar feeling. Located on stage with the other performers, the depth and range of tone in each instrument was heightened. The music played would become unimaginably loud, and in the moments following would return to its quiet melodies. The distance between instruments was noticeable and it played into the set-up and use of the whole stage and theater.

A projected image and a few interchangeable tables and chairs comprised the set. With the space provided, the set design was able to masterfully portray the Opera’s various locations. Additionally, this made the show more accessible because an English transcript at the top of the screen allowed non-French speaking people to gain insights into what was being sung outside of the raw emotion found in the singing.

Each of the character’s costume designs was another well thought out move to give context to the audience. Again, these costumes were simplistic, but their simplicity conveyed the most accurate depiction of the characters and the moderately wealthy socialites in Paris during the time period. Were they the most accurate, period costumes? No, but I was able to get a deeper understanding of Nicholas Navarre’s character, Guillot, based on his costume design.

The Dairy Arts Center’s welcoming approach to its audiences made my first opera a one-of-a-kind experience. Uplifting local artists and presenting them to Boulder and the surrounding communities is important to maintaining and developing a thriving arts scene. Students and community members alike can share their love and appreciation for these organizations by simply attending these shows that are created by world class artists.

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