Metropolitan Opera broadcasts continue on Classical 90.5 at 11:00 a.m. this Saturday, March 5, with a performance of Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini. Writing the libretto for the opera was a laborious process involving a number of people including journalist Domenico Oliva, novelist and playwright Marco Praga, playwright Giuseppe Giacosa and poet Luigi Illica (both would later collaborate with Puccini on La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly), fellow composer Ruggero Leoncavallo, and Puccini’s publisher, Giulio Ricordi. The performance will be sung in Italian and will run approximately three and one-half hours.
Few operas have surpassed Manon Lescaut in the depiction of the urgency of young love. The French tale of a beautiful young woman destroyed by her conflicting needs for love and luxury had already inspired Jules Massenet’s Manon (1884), a relatively new and immensely popular work at the time of Manon Lescaut’s premiere. Puccini made the story his own and infused it with a new level of frank emotion and a flood of melody. The opera was his first great success, leading George Bernard Shaw to name him “the successor to Verdi.”
Manon Lescaut, the work that thrust Puccini onto the international stage as Italy’s foremost opera composer, is built on lessons learned from Richard Wagner, translated into a thoroughly Italian, full-blooded thrill ride. The title character grows from a bored and pouty youth in Act II’s elegant and self-pitying aria “In quelle trine morbide” into a fully realized adult facing untimely death in Act IV’s shatteringly dramatic “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” The orchestra plays a prominent role in propelling the action as the waves of sound during the powerful Act II love duet are among the most blatantly erotic in opera.
The first three acts of the opera take place in various locations in France, around the year 1720: the first in the town of Amiens, the second in a magnificent palace in Paris, and the third on the waterfront of the port city of Le Havre. The fourth act is set in a desolate location in the New World, an imaginary place described in the libretto as “a vast desert near the outskirts of New Orleans.” Richard Eyre’s new production moves the action to the 1940s. Fabio Luisi conducts.