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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Manon

The Bad Girl is back...and she's German!
by Paul J. Pelkonen
On a road to nowhere: Manon (Diana Damrau, l.) and Des Grieux (Vittorio Grigolo, r.)
trip the light fantastic in the Met revival of Manon. 
Photo by Ken Howard © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Diana Damrau takes over the title role in the Met's 2012 production of Massenet's Manon. This revival is conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, and features Vittorio Grigolo in the crucial role of the Chevalier des Grieux.

Manon is the classic story of a good girl who gets in the wrong carriage on the way to the convent, and embarks on a wild romance with the callow nobleman, the Chevalier des Grieux. Our heroine goes from a young idealist with ambitions of the stage to a woman of ill-fame. Ultimately she is sentenced to deportation and dies in Des Grieux' arms on the road to Le Havre.

Jules Massenet was beloved by the public, but not by critics in 19th century France. He was a gifted melodist whose skill at writing ear candy in the distinct 19th century French style made him the most successful composer in France following in the footsteps of Charles Gounod. It didn't hurt that his other operas include the wildly popular Werther and Thaïs, which have also been seen recently on the Met stage. Manon is one of his most enduring scores.

This production by Laurent Pelly is yet another Peter Gelb-ordered import  from Covent Garden. It envisions Manon's Paris as a labyrinth of oppressive walls, crazy angles and claustrophobic spaces, climaxing in a casino scene where players at tables roll back and forth in front of the audience even as Manon's fragile world collapses around her.

Manon opens March 9, 2015.

Recording Recommendation:
Note: This may be a statement by yours truly in his secret identity of "Captain Obvious", but Massenet's Manon is a different opera than Puccini's Manon Lescaut, Though they are based on the same source material, the Massenet opera hasn't been recorded as often.

New Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Julius Rudel
Manon Lescaut: Beverly Sills
Chevalier des Grieux: Nicolai Gedda
Lescaut: Gabriel Bacquier
This classic recording from 1970 was the first recording of Manon in the catalogue, and a key part of the resurgence of interest in French opera, especially this one. Although Manon had been eclipsed by the later Puccini opera, this set was key at restoring interest in the music of Massenet. Hear why Manon was one of Beverly Sills' signature roles, and why she sounds so good at being so bad.

Tickets for Manon are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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