~By Lynne Gray, Ph.D.~
For its second live in HD transmission of the 2019-20 season, the Met has chosen Jules Massenet’s wonderfully melodic, Manon – a deliciously French take on the tragic story of Manon Lescaut (also made into a deliciously Italian opera by Puccini – but that’s another story!). A teenage girl from the country – far too pretty for her own good – is sent alone to the outskirts of Paris to be met by her cousin and escorted to a convent. Her non-too vigilant, and non-too-upstanding, cousin allows her to catch a glimpse of the decidedly un-convent-like life of actresses who are enjoying the company of wealthy “patrons”–and the rest, as we say, is history.
Instead of being escorted to the convent, Manon meets the young Chevalier des Grieux, falls in instant, passionate love, and escapes with him to Paris in a carriage arranged by another non-too-happy suitor–one of those wealthy “patrons.”
After an idyllic few months of co-habitation, the Chevalier’s father decides to take matters into his own hands and have the Chevalier kidnapped. Manon’s wealthy suiter gladly steps into the void and provides her with the good life she can’t quite bring herself to resist.
Indeed, she thoroughly enjoys the perks of the kept life–right up until the time she hears that the Chevalier is trading in his title for a surplice and taking orders for the priesthood. In one of the most dramatic and beautiful seduction scenes ever, he begs God to help him forget her while Manon begs him to return to her. It’s far from a fair fight. Manon wins, of course, and convinces him to come back to her and their life together.
Unfortunately, that life together proves unsustainable on the Chevalier’s modest inheritance. They are forced to go to a fancy salon to gamble for the money they need, are accused of cheating by Manon’s jilted suitor and arrested. The Chevalier’s father, the Comte de Grieux saves him, but will not save Manon who is imprisoned and scheduled to be deported.
The lovers last meeting–their last duet–is more than worth the 4-hour wait for it to happen! The entire opera, however, is accompanied by some of Massenet’s most marvelously melodic music–“Adieu, notre petite table,” “En fermant les yeux,” “Obéissons quand leur voix appelle,” and “Ah, fuyez douce image“…in addition to the lively “Gavotte “ and the wrenching final scene that will leave you grabbing for your Kleenex. Don’t miss this one–it isn’t performed that often and especially not with the glorious voices of young American opera superstars like Lisette Oropesa in the title role and Michael Fabiano as her Chevalier.
Manon will be telecast live and shown Saturday, October 26th at the Riverside 12 and Century Summit Theaters. Curtain is at 9:55. Occasionally, encores are shown on Wednesdays following the Saturday performance, but schedules are erratic and subject to change. It’s best to check with the theater before planning to see one.
Editor’s note: Lynne finished writing this review and immediately ran to catch her plane. She is off to New York to see three operas at the Met and then off to Chicago to see two operas at the Lyric Opera. That’s why we asked her to write our opera reviews. She gladly and graciously accepted our offer. She is a pro. She knows her stuff. Her classes at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, OLLI, are delightful, lettered, and very well attended.Your faithful editor, Norm Robins: firstname.lastname@example.org