The opera Manon by Massenet is based on the novel Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost, better known in the operatic version by Puccini. I only got as far as page 18 in the novel; I made the mistake of trying to read it in French and I got bogged down in the imperfect subjunctives so I do not know how faithful are the two composers' renditions. Puccini, typically, presents the story in four snapshots: we see Manon as an innocent country-girl , a Paris courtesan, waiting to be deported to America and dying in the American desert. Massenet fleshes out this story and also gives more prominence to the minor characters. There is a scene in which Manon and her lover des Grieux are living together happily before she dumps him and there is a scene, some years later where Manon returns to seduce des Grieux on the day he is to be ordained.
Renee Fleming sings the title role beautifully playing Manon as a big teaser, to borrow John Lennon's euphemism. She beautifully modulates the progression from innocent 15-year-old to cynical courtesan. I like how her wigs changed colour to match her personality development, from red to honey to platinum. Her performance was matched by that of Marcello Alvaraz as des Grieux. This is widescreen film of the Paris Bastille production; the spectacular costumes play against a minimal set that is usually a black backcloth. To my mind this is the ideal way of playing an opera with many different scene changes.
Massenet gives Puccini a run for his money. This is a spectacular production with spectacular performances. It is highly recommended.
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