Manon Lescaut

Well, this is opera, so it won’t surprise you that I found the whole story of Manon Lescaut slightly amusing. I felt especially guilty giggling to myself during Act IV, as poor Manon is dying of thirst and exhaustion in the desert outside of New Orleans. Yes, you read that correctly: A desert in Louisiana. Or take Act II as she is desperately rushing to grab all the jewels she can carry before she is arrested for “prostitution.” True love or wealth? A tough decision for Manon Lescaut! This opera was created in the early 1890s by Giacomo Puccini. It was based on a novel written in 1731 by the Abbé Prévost, and it was an extremely entertaining and passionate — ultimately doomed, of course — love story. Sir Richard Eyre decided to set this Metropolitan Opera production in the 1940s, instead of the 1730s. It worked well enough, but I felt a little deprived because I would have enjoyed it more with the original period costume. (He felt that the moral ambiguity of occupied France worked well with that of the opera.) The music was transcendent — it’s Puccini, after all — and soprano Kristine Opolais was devastatingly alluring as Manon. I could see how tenor Roberto Alagna, as Des Grieux, could not resist her. (Alagna had bravely stepped into the role at the very last minute when Jonas Kauffmann withdrew, citing illness.) Marc A. Scorca gave a delightfully informative lecture before the live screening of the opera at BAM, and the interviews with cast members by Live in HD host Deborah Voigt during the scene changes further added to my enjoyment of the performance.

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