Virus won't keep soprano Daniels or 'Manon' down

April 22, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Here's what separates Barbara Daniels from her violinist daughter and her horn-playing husband.

"They can put their instruments in their cases," says the well-known soprano, who will sing the title role tonight in the Baltimore Opera Company's production of "Manon Lescaut."

"But Mom wakes up and goes to sleep with the instrument in her throat. Other musicians can take the mouthpieces out of their instruments, close the lid of their pianos and put their fiddles in their cases. A singer is his or her instrument and subject to weather, pollen, depression and joy."

And also to nasty microbes.

Daniels, her tenor, Giuliano Ciannella, and several other members of the cast of "Manon," in addition to conductor Joseph Recigno and stage director James de Blasis, have been suffering for nearly two weeks from a virus that attacks the upper respiratory system. Its effect upon a singer, she says, "is exactly as if you've just swallowed a Popsicle and it's stuck in your throat."

The soprano is sure she caught it from Ciannella.

"There was no way for me not to get it," Daniels says, with laughter. "This is a love story. And, Lord knows, Giuliano and I have been swallowing each other's spit for weeks."

But the Ohio-born and bred singer, who first earned fame for high-flying roles in the soprano repertory in Europe and who now makes her home in Austria, says she's not angry at her Italian co-star.

"If he had taken his antibiotics as directed, this might not have happened," she says. "But I'm one soprano who doesn't blame tenors for everything. Besides, we're old friends -- we sang our first 'Manon' together back in 1988 in Cologne."

"Manon Lescaut" was the 35-year-old Puccini's first major success -- the first in a series of masterpieces that delivers passionate Italianate melodies with an impact that most listeners experience as if they were body blows.

Set in late 18th century France, "Manon" is typical of Puccini in its emphasis on sex, sentiment and death.

Just before she enters a convent, the beautiful 18-year-old Manon falls in love with a student, Des Grieux. She abandons him to become the mistress of a wealthy older man. Eventually, she renounces her ways, but is arrested on charges of prostitution and banished to the wilderness in the French New World, where, of course, she dies in her young lover's arms, proclaiming eternal love for him.

"It's an interesting part, not least because Manon -- like most teen-agers -- is on the cusp between amoral and responsible behavior," Daniels says. "But it's damnable of Puccini that he puts this girl out on stage over an orchestra that rivals those of Strauss and Wagner in size and power. There's hardly a moment's peace -- physically, vocally or dramatically."

"We're hoping and praying," Daniels adds, as she makes a guarded prognosis for the success of tonight's performance.

"Expect some honking as well as singing," she cautions. "The hardest part for sick singers is getting heated up and sweaty on a stage that's mighty dusty. It will be interesting to see what happens."

"MANON LESCAUT"

When: Tonight at 8:15 p.m.; April 26 at 7:30 p.m.; April 28 at 8:15 p.m.; April 29 (with Elizabeth Byrne as Manon and Vincenzo Scuderi as Des Grieux) at 8:15 p.m.; and April 30 at 3 p.m.

Where: Lyric Opera House

Tickets: $18-$93

Phone: (410) 727-6000

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