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Performed in Italian (with synchronised Russian supertitles )
Premiere of this production: 16 Oct 2016
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 3 hours
Libretto by Domenico Oliva, Marco Praga, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica, Ruggero Leoncavallo, and Giulio Ricordi based on the novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Music Director: Jader Bignamini
Director: Adolf Shapiro
Designer: Maria Tregubova
Right from its first night - at Turin’s Teatro Regio, on lst February 1893, Manon Lescaut won the hearts of its audiences. The première was a triumph for the composer: according to contemporary accounts, “all of Italy raved” about the opera.
It was also in 1893, in St. Petersburg, that Russia made Manon’s acquaintance. And two years later it was produced by Moscow Private Opera Company, at the Shelaputin Theatre. According to critics, the Company gave a well-integrated and harmonious performance which is hardly surprising – for the conductor, Alessandro Pomè, and the singer of the title role, Cesira Ferrari, had taken part in the Turin première. The fact that the music publisher, Pyotr Jurgenson, issued a piano score in the Russian language immediately after the Moscow première, is an indication of the opera’s popularity. But, surprisingly enough, in the future Manon Lescaut was to be a rare guest at Russian opera houses.
Today, remember, the Bolshoi Theatre is producing this opera for the very first time (! )
The Bolshoi’s Manon Lescaut is produced by Adolf Shapiro, the eminent theatre director. This will be Shapiro’s third work in opera. Manon was proceeded by his two successful productions at Moscow’s K.S. Stanislavsky and Vl. I Nemirovich-Danchenko’s Musical Theatre - Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
Adolf Shapiro on his Manon:
“From a stylistic point of view, the opera’s four acts are totally different. As the opera progresses, the character of the music undergoes radical change. Before reaching the finale, where it is truly tragic, it goes through all the various gradations of drama.
And it is this which has defined our conception of the opera: we decided each of the four acts should be given a different scenographic treatment. Where the opera takes place is absolutely irrelevant, and this goes for Puccini too. For instance, according to the libretto, Act 1 takes place in Amiens, the music though isItalian! What is important here is the overall inner perception. The atmosphere. The image which comes into one’s mind when des Grieux sees Manon for the first time and repeats after her: “Manon Lescaut, mi chiamo”, the moment of their fatal meeting. Also of key importance are Lescaut and Geronte, for it is they who advance the action. These two characters are gambler-antagonists: a gambler-poet and a gambler-mafiosi. The whole of Act 1 is constructed round the latter’s provocative actions.
But as the action advances, all secondary personages are shifted to one side by the composer and the finale is devoted to the two main protagonists who find themselves in a totally different spatial dimension: Puccini’s fourth act is totally innovatory”.
A public square in Amiens
Students enjoy the summer evening in the town square. One of them, Edmondo, sings a madrigal of youthful pleasure, hoping to attract the young women. They ask a brooding Des Grieux to join them, and to prove he is not cynical about love, he gallantly flirts with a group of girls with mock courtesy. As they all celebrate in the street, a carriage arrives at the inn carrying Geronte, Lescaut and his sister Manon. Des Grieux is struck by Manon’s beauty and shyly approaches her. She is called inside by her brother, but has been won over by Des Grieux’s words, and they make plans to meet later.
Geronte discusses Manon’s future with Lescaut. The family wants her to take the veil, but Lescaut has other ideas for her future, namely a match with the older Geronte (along with whatever benefits he may glean from the rich treasury official). The two men agree to meet for dinner, and Lescaut then joins a card game with the students. Edmondo overhears Geronte making plans to take Manon to Paris. He tells Des Grieux and agrees to help prevent this from happening.
Manon and Des Grieux meet as agreed and express their mutual attraction. He warns of Geronte’s plan to abduct her, so they run away together. Geronte is affronted, but Lescaut advises him to be patient, for he knows his sister’s expensive tastes will soon exhaust a student’s income.
An elegant room in Geronte’s house in Paris
As Lescaut predicted, Manon is now Geronte’s mistress and prepares for the day, aided by a hairdresser. When Lescaut arrives, she asks about Des Grieux, recalling their once-passionate affair. When speaking to Des Grieux, Lescaut has been vague about Manon’s whereabouts, but encouraged him to become a gambler so that he may acquire enough wealth to keep her in the style she requires.
Geronte has arranged a reception with musicians, who sing a madrigal in Manon’s honor. A dancing master teaches the minuet, but in spite of all the finery, Manon is bored with her new life. Realizing that she is unhappy, Lescaut privately decides to fetch Des Grieux. The guests depart for a stroll down the esplanade, and Manon promises to join them later.
Des Grieux appears at the door. He berates her lack of fidelity, but in begging forgiveness, she softens his resolve. Geronte returns and is thunderstruck to find them in each other’s arms. Manon counters his deriding remarks by holding a mirror to his face, reminding him of his advanced age. Threatening revenge, he leaves the couple alone.
Lescaut soon enters, breathless. Geronte has summoned the authorities, denouncing Manon’s lack of morality. Before fleeing with Des Grieux, she gathers her expensive jewelry, but that delay proves costly – the guards arrive and arrest her for thievery.
A square near the harbor in Le Havre
Manon is being held in the barracks, awaiting deportation to America with a group of prostitutes. Lescaut has bribed one of her jailors, and he and Lescaut wait for the changing of the guard to effect her escape. She is made aware of the plan while sharing a brief moment with Des Grieux. A shot betrays their scheme. Manon and the other prisoners are then led one-by-one to a ship while the onlooking townspeople make wicked comments as each one passes by. Des Grieux begs the captain to be hired as a deckhand, and he agrees to take the infatuated young man on the voyage to the New World.
A wilderness on the edges of the Louisiana Territory
After troubles with the colonial governor, the two lovers are forced to make an escape. Manon is destitute and very weak. She sends Des Grieux ahead to look for water and shelter. When he returns it is too late. She dies believing that time will cleanse her of any sin, and he is left with nothing but memories of their too brief time together.
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia