Monday, December 23, 2019

Manon Lescaut (an opera review post)

Yeah, yeah, I have no image for you for this one, either. I'm just not excited about the cover of the opera book enough to want to go to the trouble of getting a picture of it. Visualize this: a strand of pearls on a glossy, black tabletop with a few scattered pearls lying around it.
There you go. If you can get that picture in your head, you have the cover of the program.

The opera is much better than the program cover but, then, it is Puccini.

Manon Lescaut is based on the French novel L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut published in 1731. It's one of two operas based on this work, the other being Manon by Messenet, and both are still popular and rotation today. Without having seen the other one, I'm going to say that the Puccini one is better. Hey, it's Puccini!

Here's what I found amusing from this opera:
Part of the opera takes place in the wastelands of Louisiana. Wait, let me make that more clear: It takes place in the desert wastelands of Louisiana. Of course, having grown up in Louisiana, when I heard this, it made me laugh and wonder what the heck Puccini was thinking. I mean, he wrote Lescaut in 1890; everyone knew there were no deserts in Louisiana in 1890. It was kind of like, what the heck?

Then, I realized that it was based on a novel from the early 1700s, and Louisiana was a huge territory in the 1700s. Something like 1/3 of the total area of what is now the United States. When the novel was written, there were wastelands in Louisiana, and the opera is set during the same time period as the novel, so the it all suddenly made sense. Still, it was funny, and that's going to be the thing that most sticks with me about this opera.

The next thing is that Manon was much abused. She was an incredible beauty that her parents were sending off to a nunnery, which means the character is probably somewhere in the 14-16 year old range. The opera opens with a rich old white guy attempting to kidnap her to take her away to be his sex slave. It ends, as with all Puccini operas, in tragedy. In tragedy in the wastelands of Louisiana.

This production was good. It's not the best Puccini I've seen, but it might be the one with the most complexities and nuance, including a scene of prostitute branding which was quite horrific.

Brian Jagde, whom I have mentioned many times before, played des Grieux and was as good as always. Lianna Haroutounian was Manon and was a good match. The only real issue with the production was the death scene at the end, which I'm not going to try to explain, but I'm sure was a directing problem. Beyond that, though, it was a great production with great performances.


  1. I love Puccini!

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  2. I can see why you're not excited by that picture. It's so easy to imagine. Not much effort in it. At least the opera itself sounds better.

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