Baritone Nan Wang (MM ’22, PS ’23) is one of two MSM students performing the role of Chevalier des Grieux in the MSM Graduate Opera production of Massenet’s Le portrait de Manon. It’s part of the production taking place at MSM from December 8 to 11 that includes Ibert’s comic opera Angélique and the choral work Pavane by Fauré.
Nan chats with us about the opera and about being a student at Manhattan School of Music.
Orgininally from Handan, China, Nan began singing at a young age and moved to Beijing to study at a high school affiliated with the world renowned Central Conservatory of Music in China. Nan came to NYC in 2019 to study at MSM with Marlena Malas and is currently a Professional Studies candidate.
What is Le portrait de Manon about?
Nan: The opera is a one-act sequel to Massenet’s previous masterpiece Manon. Des Grieux, whom I play, is older at this point. Jean, the nephew of Des Grieux, has told his uncle he’s in love with Aurora, a young girl who was adopted by an old friend, Tiberge. Because of his personal experience and his lesson learned about the suffering that comes from love, Des Grieux believes Aurora is unworthy of Jean and wants to protect him from the pain of unreasonable love. Jean’s passion for love reminds Des Grieux of himself at a younger age and his love for Manon, which enrages him even more. After sending Jean away with a stern lecture, Des Grieux is absorbed in a profound meditation. Once getting through this introspection and desperation, he hears what he thinks is Manon singing, but turns out to be Aurore. Des Grieux has a change of heart, yields to his arguments, and consents to Jean’s marriage to Aurore.
You are featured in the opera – tell us about your character. What is challenging about singing the role of Des Grieux?
Nan: Des Grieux is an interesting role to sing. He is a very grumpy old man at times, however who can blame him! Manon was everything to him and now that she’s died, he has no reason to live. Even though she is not in the opera, the spirit Manon is very present and lives on in the mind of Des Greiux. I need to keep that in mind when I’m performing.
One of the most challenging things for me in the performance, is dealing with the relationship between emotion and the technical aspects of singing. The character triggers powerful emotions in a natural way, which I need to make sure I’m singing in a healthy way, and not pushing vocally.
How has the rehearsal process been going?
Nan: It’s becoming more and more exhilarating as we are get closer to the performances. Being able to work on this music with the phenomenal musical artistic staff on the opera and at MSM has been a fun and rewarding experience. Maestro Pierre Vallet and the Head of Music in Opera for Vocal Arts Kristen Kemp, and all of the incredible coaches all give us a lot of freedom musically to bring the characters to life. Everything started to come together while working with John de los Santos and the team of directors. I was able to fully understand the music and how it related to the story. Everything became more meaningful as the intention became clearer. Opera is so fun!
“Even though we practice a lot by ourselves, when we gather to rehearse we always have a space in which we explore, experiment, and achieve personal and professional improvement in a safe way!”
MSM Vocal Arts program
What is your favorite thing about studying opera at MSM?
Nan: The atmosphere! As soon as I started studying at MSM, I felt beyond honored to have so many great musicians and teachers around me including my mentor Marlena Malas! I always know there is someone I can go to if I have any questions or need advice.
The other thing I love about studying at MSM is the supportive and loving community. Even though we practice a lot by ourselves, when we gather to rehearse we always have a space to explore, experiment, and achieve personal and professional improvement in a safe way!
Why should people come and see She Loves Me?
Nan: The cast and production team have been working really hard. It’s a wonderful show, full of wonderful music and we’ve had such a fun time putting it together for you all. There is something in each of the opera’s for everyone and it’s an event that must not be missed!
What is your favorite part of the opera?
Nan: One of my favorite parts of the opera is the dialogue when Des Grieux hallucinates and sees Manon.
When the garden window is lit by the moonlight, Aurore appears outside wearing Manon’s costume. Des Grieux falls for the illusion in his delirium, saying, “Manon! It’s you!” When she comes back, he feels he has everything again.
This dialogue haunts my ears. We all have things that are important to us, and although they may have gone, when you think of them they light up your life.