Manon Lescaut, Opera by G. Puccini
Every big artist, no matter how talented and self-assured, has looked failure in the eye - until one special day. For Giacomo Puccini, this day was 1 February 1893 when he premiered his opera Manon Lescaut in Turin's Teatro Regio. After two fiascos - Le villi and Edgar - the maestro had not been in good spirits. A performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1889 helped him turn a corner with its classical operatic form, arias, real-life setting, and sympathetic, relatable characters. Ironically, the least typical of Wagnerian operas would inspire Puccini to find his own strengths.
For his next work, Puccini decided to adapt the popular 18th-century novel L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost, whose title character embodies the emotionality, sensitivity, and tragedy that would come to define all of Puccini's female leads. Manon Lescaut is also significant as the maestro's first collaboration with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, this time alongside three other creative contributors. The resulting opera, musically and lyrically, marks the birth of Puccini the mature composer, and the audience of the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago will delight in witnessing the master's first triumph.
Manon Lescaut's heroine is a beautiful young lady who elopes with the nobleman Des Grieux. Their happiness is short, however, as Manon gives in to the wooing of Geronte di Ravoir, a wealthy treasurer. She grows bored of the older man, however, and finds herself yearning for Des Grieux again. For her loose morals, Geronte has Manon sent to a prison in Louisiana. Des Grieux follows her to America and duels with the colony governor's son to help her escape. As the two lovers go on the run, Manon falls ill and dies in her true love's arms.
With Manon Lescaut, Puccini finds not only a winning storyline; he also reaches new musical heights. His orchestration is intimately intertwined with the action on stage and alternates between dramatic and playful effortlessly. The vocal parts are equally mesmerising. The Gran Teatro Giacomo Puccini will resonate with the first of the maestro's many beautiful arias ('Donna non vidi Mai', 'In quelle trine morbide') and breathtaking love duets ('Cortese damigella', 'Tu, tu, amore? Tu?!').