Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Redbox

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival

South African actor, artist, multimedia artist, film and theater, now opera director William Kentridge has taken the world by storm over the past few years. In my experience The Magic Flute in Brussels, The Return of Ulysses (puppets) in San Francisco, The Nose in Aix, Lulu at the Met, Die Winterreise and his “One Man Show” in Aix. And now Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Erismena at the Aix Festival

An incredible feat! The Aix Festival opened five operas, all new productions, on five consecutive evenings. The fifth was Francesco Cavalli’s 1655 drama per musica, Erismena! The compulsive intellectualism of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643) long since thrown in the canals, Cavalli dissolves Venetian opera into purest, mindless hedonism.

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Redbox

Des Grieux Buries Manon
05 Oct 2005

Abbé Prévost's Manon Lescaut

The Story of the Chevalier Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost stands as one of the great works of French literature. It first appeared in 1731 as an appendix to the series, Memoirs and Adventures of a Man of Quality. It was later revised in 1753 for independent publication under the title Les Aventures du chevalier Des Grieux et Manon Lescaut with illustrations by Pasquier and Gravelot.

Manon Lescaut is a morality tale not dissimilar in purport to The Canterbury Tales or The Divine Comedy. The story is narrated by M. de Renoncour as related to him by Des Grieux.

[The public] will see, in M. Des Grieux’s conduct, a terrible example of the power of the passions. The portrait I have to paint is of a young man who, in his blindness, rejects happiness in order to plunge voluntarily into the uttermost depths of misfortune; who, possessing all the qualities that mark him out for brilliance and distinction, prefers, from choice, a life of obscurity and vagrancy to the advantages of fortune and nature; who foresees his own misfortunes without having the will to avoid them; who feels and is oppressed by them, without benefiting from the remedies that are continually offered him and which could at any moment end them; in short, an ambiguous character, a mixture of virtues and vices, a perpetual contrast between good impulses and bad actions.

While Des Grieux is the supposed subject of the story, it is Manon Lescaut who dominates it inasmuch as she is Des Grieux’s obsession. Yet at no point does Manon speak with her own voice; and, indeed, de Renoncour has but one brief encounter with Manon in Pacy when she is amongst a group of prostitutes being escorted to Le Havre for shipment to America — sentenced to “transportation” as the judges of the Old Bailey would phrase it.

Among the dozen prostitutes who stood chained together about the waist in groups of six, there as one whose air and cast of feature were so little in keeping with her present condition that in any other situation I would have taken her for a person of the first rank. Her sad expression and the filthy state of her linen and dress detracted so little from her beauty that the sight of her filled me with respect and compassion.
It is here that de Renoncour meets Des Grieux, who has followed the group since they left Paris. Taking pity on him, de Renoncour gives Des Grieux money that enables him to accompany his mistress to Le Havre.

Two years pass before de Renoncour meets Des Grieux again, at which juncture Des Grieux tells him his story. It begins at an inn in Amiens. Des Grieux is 17 years of age studying philosophy with a view toward going into the Church or becoming a knight of the Order of Malta, a religious and military order whose members take vows of chastity and obedience. By chance he sees a carriage arrive from whence Manon and her escort, an elderly man, disembark. “[I]nflamed all of a sudden to the point of rapture,” Des Grieux approaches. In the course of their conversation, he learns that Manon has been sent to Amiens to become a num, “no doubt,” according to Des Grieux, “to check that predisposition to pleasure which had already declared itself, and which has since been the cause of all her misfortunes and of mine.” He protests such tyranny and convinces her to escape. Being “of humble birth herself,” she was, of course, “flattered to have made the conquest of such a lover.”

They flee to Paris where they take a furnished apartment. Several weeks pass before Des Grieux notices that Manon has new and expensive sets of clothing. He soon suspects that their landlord is the benefactor. At dinner one evening, he sees Manon weeping. Then there is a knock at the door. Manon slips into the dressing-room and shuts herself in. Des Grieux answers the door and is immediately seized by three of his father’s footmen. He is taken to a carriage where his older brother is waiting and then promptly taken to the family home in Saint Denis. There he is imprisoned for several months to cure him of his passion for Manon.

In time, Des Grieux resolves to become a priest. With his friend, Tiberge, he returns to Paris to attend seminary at Saint-Sulpice. Nearly a year later he makes his first public exercise in disputation at the Sorbonne. He is called to a private apartment upon his return to Saint-Sulpice. Manon is there. She had attended the disputation. She expresses her remorse and in due course convinces him to leave Saint-Sulpice and join her. She will leave the landlord his furniture but take the jewels and nearly 60,000 francs that she has accumulated over the past two years.

They take a home in Chaillot but Manon insists that they also take an apartment in Paris. There he meets Lescaut’s brother, a guardsman, who “took upon himself to invite all his friends to our house in Chaillot and entertain them at our expense.” One day the maidservant arrives to inform him that the house in Chaillot has burned. Des Grieux goes to Chaillot and finds that the chest with their money has disappeared.

Facing poverty, Des Grieux turns to Lescaut for assistance. He advises Des Grieux to take up gambling and, with a loan arranged by his friend, Tiberge, Des Grieux does so with success. His success is short-lived when his servants steal all of their funds. Lescaut, Des Grieux and Manon then concoct a scheme to deceive a wealthy voluptuary (“G... M...”) of money and jewels using Manon as bait. The scheme succeeds in Manon being taken to the Hôpital and Des Grieux being imprisoned in Saint-Lazare.

While in prison, Des Grieux plots his escape with the aid of Lescaut. He uses a priest he has befriended as a human shield; but, he nevertheless manages to kill the jail porter in the process. Then again with Lescaut’s assistance, they rescue Manon through trickery and bribery. But, without warning, an enemy of Lescaut recognizes him and kills him.

Manon and Des Grieux move on to Chaillot where they are able to enjoy a few weeks of idle domesticity. An Italian prince notices Manon, but he is rejected. However, Manon soon takes up with the son of G... M... and returns to Paris as his mistress to partake of his wealth. Des Grieux pursues her and plots to have young G... M... waylaid so that he can spend a night with her. This plot proves disastrous. While both Manon and Des Grieux are sent to prison, Des Grieux is freed through the intercessions of his father. Manon is to be “shut up for the rest of her days, or sent to America.”

Des Grieux and Manon reach Le Havre. Des Grieux laments:

Although mine was the cruellest of fates, I found felicity in her glance and in the certainty of being loved by her. It is true I had lost everything that other men prize; but I ruled Manon’s heart, which was the only prize I cared about.

He expects a letter from Tiberge to be waiting for him in Le Havre with funds to secure Manon’s freedom; but, it has not yet arrived. Des Grieux sells what possessions he has and boards the ship to America with Manon. When they arrive in New Orleans, they are presented to the Governor, whose friendship they cultivated “assiduously.” Des Grieux eventually petitions the Governor for permission to marry Manon. To Des Grieux’s surprise, permission is refused. The Governor has other plans for Manon — he plans to give her to his nephew. Des Grieux thereupon confronts the Governor’s nephew. They “cross swords,” apparently resulting in the latter’s death. Des Grieux and Manon flee the city. After reaching five miles from the city, they collapse from exhaustion. At daybreak, Des Grieux discovers that Manon is dying. She expires later that day. He buries her lifeless body so that it would not be “exposed to the ravages of wild beasts.” He collapses on Manon’s grave.

Des Grieux is found there and brought back to the city. The Governor’s nephew, it seems, was not killed, not even dangerously wounded. The nobility of Des Grieux’s soul impresses the Governor. Des Grieux becomes a new man:

Heaven, after chastizing me so severely, intended that I should benefit from my punishments and misfortunes. It lightened my darkness, and reawakened in me ideas worthy of my birth and education.
Tiberge arrives in New Orleans several weeks later. They return to France, where Des Grieux intends to make his “way to the house of a gentleman-in-waiting to my parents, only a few miles outside the town.”

[Note: All quotations are taken from Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut, trans. Angela Scholar (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)]

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):