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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon Lescaut

Kristine Opolais and Jonas Kauffmann Roberto Alagna heat up February.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
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.
Jonas Kaufmann is out and Roberto Alagna will make his debut as the Chevalier 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.

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 particularly pretty. 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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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.