PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 May, 2010, 12:00am

Opera de Nice, Opera-Theatre d'Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, Opera de Massy and Grand Theatre de Reims
Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre
Reviewed: May 8

Opera Hong Kong and Le French May have established a welcome partnership bringing French opera to our city. This year's offering, Jules Massenet's Manon (1884), is based on an 18th-century novel by Abbe Prevost. On her way to a convent, 16-year-old Manon meets the young Chevalier des Grieux; falling madly in love, they set up house together until Manon leaves to become the mistress of a richer man. The embittered Des Grieux is preparing to become a priest when Manon begs him to come back to her. But Manon's greed for money proves to be her downfall.

The work's fascination lies in the amoral Manon. The opera is full of lush romantic music which explores passion of all kinds - love, jealousy, greed. Nadine Duffaut's well-paced production (a joint venture by the opera companies of Nice, Avignon and Vaucluse, Massy and Reims) delineates the characters clearly, building to a powerful climax.

Nobody sings French opera like the French - something in a timbre of the voice, a particular intensity of style - and thanks are due to Opera Hong Kong and Le French May for bringing in a top-notch cast.

As Manon, Nathalie Manfrino is gorgeously seductive and sings superbly. Although too knowing at the beginning, she develops impressively and is stunning in the scene where she recaptures Des Grieux (N'est-ce Plus Ma Main?).

Florian Laconi's ardent singing and acting makes Des Grieux's passion for Manon convincing. It was a particular pleasure to hear the opera's fine duets sung magnificently by these two young stars. There was outstanding support from the entire cast, with Christophe Mortagne a stand-out as the viperish Guillot.