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Jean Reno Directs Puccini

Jean Reno, actor and opera directorChances are that you know French actor Jean Reno. He has done some of the best films made in France, of course -- Les Visiteurs, Nikita, Le Grand Bleu -- but he has also been in American films like Ronin, The Professional, and those turkeys Mission: Impossible and Godzilla. He will soon be appearing as Bezu Fache in The Da Vinci Code, with Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), and Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing). It's the last thing I would have expected him to do, but I have recently learned that Jean Reno is directing a production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut for the Teatro Regio Torino. Tenor Roberto Alagna, who was originally engaged for the role of Des Grieux, has sadly had to withdraw. An article by Richard Heuzé (La «Manon Lescaut» de Jean Reno, January 17) in Le Figaro has the information (my translation):

"An opera company is much more difficult to manage than a movie cast," says Jean Reno, seated on a padded chair in the front row of the Teatro Regio in Turin, about his new role, directing the Manon Lescaut that he will present tonight to the Turin public. For him, it is a first on all fronts: "It's absolutely the first time that I have ever brushed up against this world of crazy people that is opera." Five days before the curtain opened, Robert Alagna, his longtime friend, withdrew. During the first rehearsal with the orchestra, the tenor with the moving voice had to stop at the very beginning of his part. Feeling dizzy and red in the face, he sad down on the edge of the fountain set downstage before calling it off, felled by problems of metabolism that have already forced him to pull out of the grand New Year's gala at the Opéra-Bastille. It was a bad blow for Jean Reno, who was very much counting on Alagna's performance of the role of Renato des Grieux: "It was largely out of friendship for him that I agreed to come to Turin. I thought that the two of us would be able to create something truly interesting." Nothing to be done about that.
Of course, Puccini premiered Manon Lescaut, an early success, in the Teatro Regio of Turin, in 1893. The production sounds fairly traditional. I'll try to find some reviews.

Thinking about this again today, Reno's comment about an opera company being more difficult to manage than a movie cast reminds me of the 1991 Glenn Close film Meeting Venus, directed by István Szabó, which sadly is not available on DVD. In that movie, the conductor character describes the fictional European opera company, Opera Europa, as "a place where you can be misunderstood in fifteen different languages." I may try to acquire that movie, which I enjoyed very much but have not seen recently, used on VHS.

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