Manon Lescaut is an Italian opera composed by G. Puccini in the 1890s, from a French novel named “L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut“.
Act 1 : Des Grieux is a melancholic student, outside, with friends, in France. A coach arrives, bringing Manon, a young woman on her way to convent (forced by her father), and Géronte, an old man who wants to abduct Manon and live with her in Paris. Des Grieux understands what’s happening, falls in love, and Manon and him escape in Géronte’s coach. Voilà !
Act 2 : Curiously, Manon has already left des Grieux and is living a relatively luxurious life with the old Géronte. Etc… Yes, etc !
There’s a huge, gap, an ellipsis, between Act 1 and 2 : what happened to the young couple ? Why did Manon choose Géronte, quitting her young lover ? Money ? Bore ? Stupidity ?
As a Puccini lover, I watched many versions of this opera. And I found out something, a question appeared :
What does Manon Lescaut want?
So I began to explore books and the web to find out. Kiri Te Kanawa (with a marvellous Placido Domingo as Des Grieux) is a splendid, crystal innocent Manon. She floats onto what life brings to her, like a little cork on the sea. Elsewhere, Astrid Weber plays an upstart woman, mocking secretly and using Des Grieux as a purpose to escape her fate.
These are two very interesting ways to interpret the character. Because you will fill the blank (ellipsis) in VERY different ways !
From this to that, I saw many ways to put Manon to life. Is she a punk ? A feminist ? An idiot ? Does she choose anything ? What do you think ?
Manon is a blurry character. We often don’t understand her. Her behavior is complex, living, changing all the time : she is a weathercock !
In Act I, she’s a sad, frightened country girl sent off to a convent. In Act II, she’s the consort of a wealthy old man, sarcastic and bored. This activity doesn’t address Act III, where she’s in prison for allegedly stealing from that old man, but Act IV finds her experiencing the consequences: wandering helpless, full of regrets, in a vast American desert.
Yes that’s sad ! Yes She’ll die ! Who was Manon Lescaut ?
Tool : Ah c’est tellement passionnant when you don’t have all the keys. When a single glance can change all the story ! Who’s evil ? You don’t know. What if in your work you didn’t give “all the keys” to the audience ? Chop one or two, just to see…
Tool : One of the pleasure of Classical Music is to compare versions. You can have days and days of pleasure.
Dial : Another article is needed : “In Love with a Project”. Soon.