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Dramma lirico in four acts
Libretto by Luigi Illica, Domenico Oliva Ricordi & Marco Praga, based on Abbé Prévost
First performed February 1 1893, Teatro Regio, Turin
Sung in Italian with German & English surtitles
Introductory talks, in German, in the Holzfoyer half an hour before performances begin
Edmondo, a student, with nothing but love on his mind, delights in the joys of youth. He urges his friend Des Grieux to look for adventure too. Des Grieux starts flirting with girls for fun. More travellers arrive, including Manon and her brother Lescaut. Des Grieux is overwhelmed by her beauty and talks to her at the earliest opportunity. When Lescaut calls for his sister, Des Grieux insists on seeing her again.The young woman also caught the eye of a wealthy older gentleman, Geronte. Having heard about his beautiful sister's qualities from Lescaut, he decides to abduct her. Geronte makes arrangements while Lescaut is busy playing cards . Edmondo realises what he's up to and warns his friend. Des Grieux and Manon meet again. He confesses his love. When she hears about the planned abduction, Manon eventually agrees to run away with Des Grieux. Edmondo, who fixed everything, informs Geronte that he's too late. Lescaut assures outraged Geronte that Manon couldn't bear living with a penniless student for very long. Act 2 Lescaut's prediction was correct: Manon left Des Grieux for Geronte, who introduced her to the »Art of the Salon«. Although spoiled by pretty clothes and admiration, her new lover's kisses taste pricy and cold. She tells her brother about her boredom and longing for Des Grieux. Lescaut knows he's turned into a gambler, to try and win Manon back with money. He decides to bring Des Grieux to Manon. After Manon has danced for Geronte and the guests, Des Grieux appears and reproaches her. Manon begs for forgiveness. They soon surrender to their mutual passion. Geronte surprises them and is mocked by Manon. Des Grieux wants to leave immediately, but Manon can't bear to leave wealth behind and starts packing. Geronte, meanwhile, has reported Manon. Lescaut storms in to warn them. They don't manage to get away in time, and Manon is arrested. Interval Act 3 Manon and other women are being prepared for deportation. Des Grieux, with Lescaut's help, attempts to free her, in vain. The lovers are in despair. A roll call begins for the imprisoned women, under running commentary from the crowd. Des Grieux doesn't want to be parted from her. He begs the captain to let him go with her. His wish is granted. Act 4 On the run again, Manon and Des Grieux are stranded in the middle of nowhere. While Des Grieux goes on a futile search for water, Manon, completely exhausted, relives her past. She dies in his arms.
No journey's end. A life of overwhelming passion, living beyond ones means in a permanent state of transit from which only death can provide the longed for refuge. In her desire for a more fulfilling, seemingly unattainable, life Manon changes her social situation with burning will and ambition. She soon realises that »total freedom« is fragile. The first thing she sacrifices is her love for Des Grieux, a student, who turns out to be the only anchor in the abyss of her (and his) future. Giacomo Puccini shaped his own version of Abbé Prevost's scandalous novel, which inspired many composers down the years, going even further than the original in its »desperate passion«, radical approach and stark realism. The composer chose to concentrate on scenes of destruction, focussing on them in snap shot fashion, rather that judging the title figure's ambivalence or taking an idealistic look at an unlikely Amour fou. Rich in orchestral colour and modern contrasts, Manon Lescaut, which cemented Puccini's world fame in 1893, focusses on raw emotion as the meaning of life.
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