The redoubtable Metropolitan Opera of New York has done it again! A carefully crafted and finely balanced production of one of Giacomo Puccini’s twelve operas, Manon Lescault, a work in four acts composed in 1893, was offered for one night only on March 9, 2016 and shown simultaneously in 1,400 movie theaters in 50 countries throughout the world. It was an operatic gem not to be missed.
Puccini’s tragic love story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chavalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévos. In 1884, a French composer by the name of Jules Massanet had written an opera titled Manon, and although based on the same novel, it has never reached the international acclaim as has Puccini’s work. In addition, another French composer by the name of Daniel Auber had also written an opera on the same subject with the title Manon Lascaut in 1883, but like Massanet’s work, it too is considered to be inferior to Puccini’s enduring composition.
The story deals with the urgency of young love and is the tragic tale of a beautiful young woman, Manon, who is ultimately destroyed by her conflicting needs for erotic love and a life of opulence and luxury. She is obsessively pursued by her young lover des Geieux for whom she yearns while being held captive by Gerona, a wealthy old lech who offers her a loveless life of luxury she willingly accepts. In the end, this conflict of desire leads to her loss of riches, love, and finally life itself.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut premiered February 1, 1893 at Teatro Regio in Turin. It was Puccini’s third opera and his first great success. It was first performed in New York at the Metropolitan Opera on January 18, 1907 in the presence of the composer himself with Enrico Caruso in the role of des Grieux and legendary Arturo Toscanini conducting.
Puccini’s next work following Manon Lescaut was La Bohéme which premiered in Turin in 1896, conducted also by Arturo Toscanini and remains one of the most popular operas ever written. Puccini’s next work after La Bohéme was Tosca (1900) followed by Madama Butterfly which premiered at La Scala in 1904.
This latest Metropolitan Opera production of Manon Lescaut, brilliantly staged by the incomparable Sir Richard Eyre, was wonderfully accessible in a crisp, clean modern style, set as it was in 1941 Nazi-occupied France; it was magnificently balanced, melding voice, orchestra, costume and set design into one unified organic whole. The compact cast was perfect, featuring soprano Kristine Opolais in the title role and tenor Roberto Alagna as her distraught lover des Grieux. The leads were ably complimented by baritone Massimo Cavalletti as Manon’s protective brother Lescaut, and the ever-villainous bass Brindley Sherratt as the lecherous old Gerona. The Met’s Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi expertly lead the stirring score.
This was a production not to be missed and through the unfailing production expertise of Fathom Events, it was made available to be enjoyed by audiences world-wide.