Culture Magazine

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon Lescaut

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais  heat up February.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon Lescaut

She's got the ways and means to New Orleans: Kristine Opolais is a glamorous Manon Lescaut.
Photo by Kristian Schuller © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.

After a two year absence, stud tenor Jonas Kaufmann makes his return to the Met stage as Des Grieux in a new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Kristine Opolais sings the title role. Director Sir Richard Eyre updates Manon Lescaut to Paris during the Nazi occupation. (Why, we're not sure.)
Composed in 1893 Manon Lescaut was Puccini's first genuine hit, and the second major adaptation of the Abbe Prevost's novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut for the operatic stage. Massenet's Manon, which also got a new production at the Met earlier this decade, came out just five years before. Widgets
When asked if it was an issue that he had chosen to set the same subject as Massenet, Puccini replied that Massenet "feels the subject as a Frenchman, with the powder and the minuets. I shall feel it as an Italian, with desperate passion." He added: "Why should there not be two operas about her? An inconstant girl can have more than one lover." The young composer injected his heroine with white-hot style and a gift for melody, creating a red-blooded romance that has thrilled audiences for a century.
Although the music is gorgeous, the story (cobbled from the bones of the Abbe's novel by a team of five librettists) isn't particularlpretty. Manon Lescaut is the tale of a simple French girl who rides a steep, dizzying slide into decadence, destitution, disaster, deportation, disease and finally, death. Along for her downward spiral is the Chevalier Des Grieux, whose love for Manon leads to the two of them being deported (to a "desert outside of New Orleans"!) in the tragic final scene.
This new Manon Lescaut is a co-production with the Baden-Baden Festival. It has a strong supporting cast with Massimo Cavalletti as Manon's churlish brother Lescaut and Brindley Sherratt in the crucial role of Geronte. Fabio Luisi conducts.
Manon Lescaut opens Feb. 12, 2016. A Met Live in HD telecast is scheduled for March 5, 2016.
Recording Recommendations:
Manon Lescaut is more frequently staged and recorded than Massenet's opera. Many of the great divas of the 20th century took Manon in front of the microphone, so there are recordings with Licia Albanese, Mirella Freni, Maria Callas and  Montserrat Caballe to consider. Des Grieux has been sung by Jussi Björling, Giuseppe DiStefano, Placído Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, and is a popular if slightly off-beat Puccini role for a tenor with lyric sweetness and a voice that can handle the big moments in the score.
Tickets for Manon Lescaut are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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