“No acting method, no double, no mask. Just me.” – Jonas Kaufmann
In preparation for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden’s live screening of Manon Lescaut at 120 cinemas nationwide in France on 24th June, operatic superstar Jonas Kaufmann and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera at the ROH, speak exclusively to Qobuz about translating operatic values to the silver screen, and the opportunities and challenges that live broadcast conditions create.
Puccini’s adaptation of the 1731 novel will be brought back to the Covent Garden stage for the first time in 30 years. French opera lovers, whether in Paris or Poitiers, Cherbourg or Cannes, will have the opportunity to see one of their country’s greatest novels brought to life by the Royal Opera House in London.
Manon Lescaut is one of the operas that the ROH has chosen to broadcast in cinemas across the globe, as part of their 2013/14 Live Cinema Season. Previous productions this year have included Don Quixote, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty, but it is Abbé Prévost’s tale of a doomed love affair that has been chosen to conclude the season.
Prévost’s controversial novel L'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut was published in France in 1731, has been adapted in several highly successful operas by different composers (the ROH staged another production of Manon Lescaut, composed by Massenet, earlier this year), no less because its themes of romance, love lust, power and money translate unsurprisingly well into opera. This time around, it is Giacomo Puccini’s operatic interpretation that has been brought to the world-famous London opera house, with Antonio Pappano conducting.
In anticipation of its broadcast, Qobuz asked questions to Jonas Kaufmann, who sings the role of Manon’s lover Des Grieux, and Kasper Holten, Director of Opera at the ROH.
Qobuz: What is it like being filmed? Do you feel that there is a change in your vocal technique, or in your acting, under live broadcast conditions?
Jonas Kaufmann : “The important fact is that you need to be truthful and convincing every time. If you really mean what you are singing you become that other person so it is real life. Then it’s natural and you don’t have to act for the audience or the camera. If you have natural reactions and natural gestures then the audience, either in theatre or cinema, understand. I don’t change a thing. If I’m in good health then every performance could be filmed! I become this person – no acting method, no double, no mask. Just me.”
Qobuz: What is distinctive about ROH opera broadcasts in particular? What is it about the (for example) production values and camera direction that make ROH productions special to see in the cinema?
Kasper Holten, Director of Opera, Royal Opera House : The Royal Opera House offers a unique mix in the world: two world class companies, The Royal Ballet and The Royal Opera, under one roof, offering some of the world’s finest artists in ballet and opera, and offering a range of production styles and repertory from the classic to the new. ROH Cinema represents this mix in a unique way, with high production values. Some of the world’s most experienced television directors and true 5.1 surround sound makes sure that ROH Cinema offers the best possible quality, but it is the way the programme mirrors the artistic ambitions of the main stage in London – the artistic values of the Royal Opera House – that makes it truly unique.
Qobuz: How do you expect the adaptation of Manon Lescaut to be received in France, given that it is part of France's literary canon?
Kasper Holten : We are sure it might be seen as controversial, with an updated reading of the story, translating it into a contemporary nightmare in a world where everything seemingly is for sale. But it is a great tribute to the fantastic and wonderful novel that it continues to fascinate us, challenge us with questions that feel fresh today and relevant to our world, and that it inspires artists to new interpretations again and again. And with Antonio Pappano conducting Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais both making role debuts, the musical quality will be second to none.
Check out the Royal Opera House’s videos produced for Manon Lescaut two videos below. Vive l’opéra au cinema!