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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Manon Lescaut - lyric drama in four acts based on the novel by Abbé Prévost (1892)
Manon Lescaut - Karita Mattila
The Chevalier des Grieux - Marcello Giordani
Lescaut, Manon’s brother - Dwayne Croft
Geronte, a wealthy Parisian - Dale Travis
Edmondo, a student - Sean Panikkar
An innkeeper - Paul Plishka
A musician - Tamara Mumford
Madrigal singers - Lisette Oropesa, Jennifer Black, Sasha Cooke, Ellen Rabiner
Dancing master - Bernard Fitch
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet/James Levine
rec. live, Metropolitan Opera, New York, 16 February 2008
EMI CLASSICS DVD 2 17420 9 [137:00]
Experience Classicsonline


Manon Lescaut was Puccini’s first major operatic success before his ‘magic trio’ – La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Lescaut was first performed in 1893 while Bohème was premiered in 1896. Massenet had already based his successful opera Manon on the Abbé Prevost’s famous novel. Undaunted, Puccini chose to concentrate on other episodes of the Abbé’s story about the downfall of a young innocent man at the hands of the fickle, grasping, headstrong Manon.  Further detail about the Abbé Prevost novel is given here.

Desmond Heeley’s sets and costumes, for the spacious Met stage, are superb. Act I has the inn alongside Amiens’ huge city gates through which a stage and horses are driven delivering Manon into the story. The most elaborate set is Act II’s extremely lavish apartment belonging to the old roué Geronte where Manon, already bored with the good life, yearns for the romance that she had shared with Des Grieux before she left him because of his straitened circumstances.  The video filming is usually good but close-ups of the ageing principals can be sometimes a little cruel especially in Act I where Mattila is supposed to be a shy teenager. I was also disappointed that the musicians’ madrigal in Act II could barely be heard and the camera rarely focused on them when they were singing.

Karita Mattila, blessed with a silken expressive voice and fine control through her range, is a not inconsiderable actress.  Admitting to being 47, Mattila, can still do the splits in one scene and she enacts, very well, the anti-heroine’s progress. This she tracks from the innocent (?) on the way to a convent on her father’s orders - one wonders why and what mischief she had already wrought to deserve such a fate? - through greedy charmer to tragic victim. She is the victim of her own “fatal charms” as Manon, herself expresses it in Act IV as she lies dying in the American wilderness.

Marcello Giordani, a splendid Des Grieux, is blessed with no less that four wonderful arias. The first, in Act I, occurs before he meets his femme fatale and displays his joie de vivre, and the hope that he will meet his heart’s desire. For the rest of the opera, after running off with Manon, we come into contact with his grief, rage, jealousy and humiliation.

The two villains are impressive too. Dwayne Croft is a most oily, self-serving Lescaut (Manon’s brother) and Dale Travis looks like a smirking bulldog as the lascivious old galant, Geronte. By the way, what a master theatrical effect it was to have Geronte show Manon her greed as displayed in the very hand mirror that she had earlier held in front of him so that he could realize his wrinkled, ageing looks. 

Shining amongst the minor roles, Sean Panikkar as the student Edmondo who not only has a most pleasantly-timbred voice, but also great stage presence.

In between the acts, Renée Fleming interviews, first, a rather breathless Karita Mattila and between Acts II and III, a much more expansive Marcello Giordani. She is also seen in conversation with the stage manager about how the scenery is changed between acts and how the crew responds when things go wrong either mechanically or electrically. In one of the DVD’s bonus features Fleming interviews the animal trainers responsible for the production’s horses and Manon’s pet dog.

Regarding the available audio recordings of Manon Lescaut, my top recommendation is the 1993 Decca set, again conducted by James Levine with the thrilling teaming of Freni with Pavarotti, superbly backed by the Metropolitan forces: Decca 440 200-2 (2CDs)

Another DVD of Manon Lescaut worth considering is the TDK release with Maria Guleghina as Manon Lescaut and José Cura as Des Grieux TDK DVD VIDEO DVWW-OPMLES.

Regarding Massenet’s opera, Manon, then my audio CD recommendation is the teaming of Angela Gheorghiu as Manon and Roberto Alagna as Des Grieux on  EMI 3 CDs CDS5 57005 2.

And my Massenet DVD recommendation is for Renée Fleming as Manon and Marcello Alvarez as Des Grieux on TDK DVD Video DV-OPMANON.

For ballet-lovers, I recommend: Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, Manon, with Jennifer Penney as Manon and  Anthony Powell as Des Grieux.

A lavish production of Puccini’s first big operatic success which I am confident you will enjoy.
Ian Lace

see also review by Robert Farr



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