Highlights from Puccini's Manon Lescaut this Sunday February 7 at 8PM on The Lyric Stage
Manon Lescaut was Puccini's first great success. It premiered in Turin in 1893, and after some revision, in Milan in1894. It was a rocky road to success. Giulio Ricordi, the publisher, warned Puccini not to try it - only a few years before Massenet had used the same 1731 novel by the Abbe Prevost to write his very popular Manon. Puccini was undaunted: "a woman like Manon can have more than one lover," he said. "Massenet feels it as a Frenchman, with powder and minuets; I shall feel it as an Italian, with a desperate passion."
Seven librettists, including Giulio Ricordi and Ruggierro Leoncavallo worked on the libretto, although Luigi illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, and in some sources Domenico Oliva are credited with completing it.
The story is simple. On her way to a convent school, the beautiful Manon Lescaut meets a young and poor student, des Grieux. She abandons her brother, Lescaut, and another admirer, the wealthy Geronte di Ravoir, to elope with des Grieux to Paris in Geronte’s coach.
When the money runs out, the two lovers part. Manon goes to Geronte, who can support her in a luxurious home, even though she still longs for des Grieux. When her brother visits her at Geronte’s home, Manon confesses her love for des Grieux. Lescaut arranges for des Grieux to meet with Manon again. The lovers reunite and resolve to run away from Paris. Manon delays to collect her jewels (all gifts from Geronte). Geronte discovers them together, and Manon makes fun of him. In a rage, Geronte goes to the police, denouncing Manon as a prostitute. The police arrest Manon.
Des Grieux discovers that Manon has been sentenced to deportation. With the help of her brother, des Grieux joins her on the ship bound for America and later helps her to escape. But the escape proves fatal to the fragile Manon. Lost in the desert, she dies of thirst in des Grieux’s arms.
Montserrat Cabbale and Placido Domingo head the cast and Bruno Bartoletti conducts the Ambrosian Chorus and the New Philaharmonia Orchestra.