Manon Lescaut - April 2002

This is Kentish Opera at its very best

A reproduction of a raunchy brothel scene by the renowned l8th-Century artist Hogarth adorned the cover of the programme for the recent production of Puccini's opera Manon Lescaut at the Churchill Theatre. In terms of its Rubenesque colours, its decadence and vitality, there were elements of the opening act that mirrored the painting with uncanny accuracy.

Set designer Enid Strutt's initial setting of a square in Amiens during the early 1700s was breathtaking. Carol Stevenson's costume design made the stage look like a living scene from the past - teeming with activity as street traders and harlots peddled their wares, children played, men sipped their beer, and the women scurried around.

This was Kentish Opera and artistic director Sally Langford at their best.

As Manon Lescaut, soprano Elaine McKrill sang and acted the role with a passion and clarity of voice that could not be faulted. And tenor David Newman made the perfect romantic and artistic partner for Puccini's tragic heroine. James Bobby excelled as Manon's brother and there were several delightful cameo roles.


The enormous chorus was disciplined and impressive and the orchestra added a further touch of professionalism to the event under its conductor Stephen Harris.

Roy Atterbury, Kentish Times, 17th May 2002

An email from one of the audience

I'm not in the habit of writing fan letters, which may have to do with the fact that I'm a hopeless musical snob and very hard to please! But I am driven to put finger to keyboard because I was so amazed and so stunned by the performance of Manon Lescaut I saw on Friday. I was so tired that evening that I thought I might stay for only one act. But within two minutes of listening to the glossy, assured sounds from the orchestra pit I realised I would be pinned to my seat for the entire show. The committed musicianship of that young orchestra is phenomenal and would have made the composer proud.

The sets were also a delight, being handsome, appropriate and completely practical. Which makes them ineligible for the major opera stages, but a relief for the audience. The costumes too were exceptionally well designed.

The chorus singing and movement were excellent, as were the soloists, some of whom I shall certainly hope to hear again.

I do congratulate you on presenting your Bromley audience with a superlative show, from every point of view. I look forward to the next one!

Ann Lee

A Review by Mark Fitz-Gerald for 'Words and Music'

I was once advised by a well known Italian conductor 'Never do 'Manon Lescaut' - if the chorus don't go wrong in Act 1 they certainly will in Act 3 - it's too difficult! Puccini had had no serious recognition in his career as a composer until this opera and it is as if he threw all possible technical and emotional resources into this work in order to ensure success (which it did) rather as Britten was to do years later with 'Peter Grimes'. It is interesting to note that neither composer was to make such extremes on his chorus again after these works.

All the more credit that despite much individual characterisation and complex movement, the Kentish Opera chorus seemed so at ease with the music and that they sounded as if they had known it all their lives! Thanks to the conductor Stephen Harris' secure guidance the music flowed along at a natural pace, easing the action along.

Under Sally Langford's direction we witnessed a wealth of human types and individuals in all the ensemble scenes, as well as a vivid reading of all the main characters, with a climax brought almost to complete fulfilment in the Act 2 love duet!

It is rare that the set and costume design create such a delight to the senses as to provoke spontaneous applause when the curtain opens at the start of an act. This was certainly the case on the night I attended thanks to the work of Enid Strutt (set design) and Carol Stevenson (costume design).

Paula O'Sullivan was well matched to the role of Manon. Despite a slightly light voice she soared over the orchestra with ease. Her acting was surprisingly fine considering she rarely had moments when she could respond to her Des Grieux. This part was taken by Jim Heath who, despite a very capable voice seemed to give most of his concentration to his singing in the final scene where we had a more integrated performance. Kevin Sharp was a strong and convincing Lescaut, Paul Hodges an imposing Geronte and John Bailey a clearly sung and characterised Edmondo.

The Dancing Master, Randy Nichol, well groomed by Terry John Bates, was highly entertaining .as was Richard Camp's Hairdresser. The Madrigal Singers interlude was also highly effective.

If only the audience could have matched the performance. Despite the low turnout, the reception was more than enthusiastic.