I wonder how many reviews of Manon start by appraising the portrayal of Lescaut. A very important character of course, but certainly he has less plot points or stage time than Des Grieux and the eponymous heroine. At La Scala, in the cast of 27 October, Lescaut was played, quite brilliantly, by Walter Madau.
Madau is a member of the corps de ballet but is often favoured for soloist roles and is widely known for his perky personality. Here, he was something different. Technically, he did everything right, but it was his acting that was spot on. This is a role that Italian dancers, frankly, find very hard to judge, and usually when Lescaut is drunk in the party scene, there is not a sound from the audience at La Scala during the ridiculous pas de deux, and his slapstick solo. Madau got it right and the audience laughed. Nothing about his body was symmetrical, with his head flopping always to one side, and after he brushed off each of the gymnastic feats with panache, he always had an expression of surprise when he found himself still standing. In the pas de deux (with a nicely judged Antonella Albano as his mistress) he seemed constantly bewildered, amused and bemused by the positions he found himself in. In the first act he was a persuasive rascal and was touching in his death scene too. The best Lescaut I’ve seen at La Scala.
One of the company’s most accomplished actors is Emanuela Montanari, and sadly this was her only performance in the lead role during this run. She is such an intelligent dancer with every reaction so beautifully measured, yet all performed with seeming spontaneity. The arc of her rise and fall was convincing throughout and the final scene had this spectator in tears.
In the first bedroom scene Jennifer Penney, who can be seen dancing the pas de deux with Anthony Dowell in The Royal Ballet’s 1982 video, does a short series of chaîné turns behind Des Grieux’s back, with her shoulders slightly hunched like an excited teenager. Svetlana Zakharova who performed the same sequence last week at La Scala did it quite prettily, but it was just a series of steps; Montanari was playfully flirting with him — not with raised shoulders, but the steps had purpose. This quality is vital everywhere in this (and certainly every MacMillan) ballet, yet much gets lost, or is simply beyond a dancer’s grasp. Montanari has a logical intention in every move, her use of her upper body is especially exquisite, and, like Madau, she showed that more than faultlessly executed steps are needed to make a satisfying performance.
Montanari’s Des Grieux was Claudio Coviello who guarantees an honest and superbly danced performance in everything he touches. His lines are harmonious, and he doesn’t let his faultless control block his emotions, though sometimes his face can get lost in the crowd. When he smiles he lights up the scene, but not all his expressions come over in a big house like La Scala.
Other notable performances were a lively Valerio Lunadei as the chief beggar, Mick Zeni as the cruelly imperturbable gaoler, and Massimo Garon was a convincingly manipulating Monsieur G.M., while the perfectly cast three gentlemen from the opening night were once again splendid in their dance during the party scene: Marco Agostino, Christian Fagetti, and Mattia Semperboni, who couldn’t be bettered.