Ricordi, the Milanese publisher, promoted Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, premièred in Turin in February, 1893, shortly after Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Composed in the realistic, ‘verismo’ style, it was Puccini’s first successful opera.
The 18th century French novelist Prevost’s lewd, witty and even pornographic story includes elopement, sex, gambling, murder, and death. Long considered unsuitable reading, it was comparable to Fielding’s Tom Jones, Richardson’s Pamela, and Cleland’s Fanny Hill. Massenet, with Manon, had recently made his fortune with it
The convent girl elopes from the Amiens stagecoach with the penniless Cavaliere des Grieux, a part immortalised by tenors such as Björling, Caruso, Domingo and Pavarotti. For him, it is love at first sight: Donna non vidi mai. Her response is the famous Manon Lescaut mi chiamo, My name is Manon Lescaut.
Tempted more by wealth than love, she becomes a courtesan. In the famous Embarkation scene, having been convicted for prostitution, she is transported from Le Havre to Louisiana. He follows her there. In the desert near New Orleans, having sung her famous aria Sola, perduta, abbandonnata, she dies in his arms.
Manon has been performed by divas such as Callas. Of the two operatic whores, Carmen attracts sympathy, whereas Manon gets little.
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