Friday, September 21, 2012

Preview: The other operatic "Story of the Chévalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut"




DES GRIEUX: Gentle lady, accept my prayer:
let those sweet lips tell me your name.
MANON: Manon Lescaut is my name.

(1) Jussi Bjoerling (t), des Grieux; Licia Albanese (s), Manon; Rome Opera Orchestra, Jonel Perlea, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded July 1954
(2) Giuseppe di Stefano (t), des Grieux; Maria Callas (s), Manon; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded July 1957
(3) Richard Tucker (t), des Grieux; Renata Tebaldi (s), Manon; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Jan. 17, 1959

by Ken

We've already begun poking around the operafication of one of the literature's most commanding "love at first stories," that of the Chévalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut, as set forth originally novelistically by the Abbé Prévost. So far we've focused on the good times, the falling-madly-in-love times, as realized in music by Jules Massenet in his Manon. The young Puccini, having as yet no reputation to speak of, had the temerity to undertake another operatic Manon, and for him it was the breakthrough work. Manon Lescaut has its musicodramatic shortcomings, but it also contains large quantities of great music, and great dramatic music.

Just as in Massenet, Manon and des Grieux meet outside that inn in Amiens, after she has been deposited there by coach for transshipment to a convent -- though here the relation exercising such lack supervision is not her cousin but her brother. After the click-through we'll hear a full version of this compact scene. For now I want to focus first on those first words exchanged by the young people, and then jump a few minutes to the impact the encounter has on des Grieux.

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut: Act I, des Grieux, "Donna non vidi mai"
DES GRIEUX: Never have I beheld a woman like this!
To tell her "I love you"
awakened my spirit to new life.
"Manon Lescaut is my name."
How those fragrant words
wander in my spirit
and caress my quivering heart.
O gentle murmur, ah! may it never cease!
"Manon Lescaut is my name."
Gentle murmur, ah! may it never cease!

Giuseppe di Stefano (t), des Grieux; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded July 1957

Richard Tucker (t), des Grieux; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Jan. 17, 1959

Not to worry, we are going to hear Bjoerling's "Donna non vidi mai," but for now I thought we'd hark back to the master, who recorded the aria only once, but I think once was all he needed.


Enrico Caruso, tenor; A. Regis Rossini, harp; Victor Orchestra. Victor, recorded in New York, Feb. 24, 1913



NOW LET'S HEAR THE WHOLE CHUNK OF
THE MEETING OF MANON AND DES GRIEUX


PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut: Act I, des Grieux,"Cortese damigella" (meeting of Manon and des Grieux)
Amiens: A spacious square near the Paris Gate.

There is an inn with a porch, under which are tables for customers. An outside staircase leads to the first floor of the inn; an avenue leads off to the right. The whole village has assembled for the arrival of the coach from Arras, from which the most notable arrival is
MANON, who is welcomed by her brother LESCAUT (as well as the aging aristocrat GERONTE, who is immediately smitten with her).

The
INNKEEPER has gone up the stairs, followed by GERONTE and LESCAUT, who has signaled MANON to wait for him. She sits down. The crowd disperses; some of the sutdents sit down to drink and gamble. The student EDMONDO stands apart and watches as his fellow student DES GRIEUX approaches MANON.

DES GRIEUX: Gentle lady, accept my prayer:
let those sweet lips tell me your name.
MANON [simply and modestly as she rises]: Manon Lescaut is my name.
DES GRIEUX: Forgive my words,
but I am drawn to you
by some mysterious fascination.
MANON: Tomorrow at dawn I leave.
A convent awaits me.
DES GRIEUX: And in you
spring is revealed blossoming on your cheek!
O lovely one, what fate makes war upon you?
MANON: My fate is decided:
the will of my father.
DES GRIEUX: Oh, how beautiful you are!
Ah, no! It is no sterile convent that calls you!
No! Another star shines on your destiny!
MANON: My star is setting!
DES GRIEUX: We cannot speak now.
Return here soon,
and, conspiring against fate,
we shall conquer.
MANON: Your words show so much pity!
I should like to remember you!
What is your name?
DES GRIEUX: I am Renato des Grieux.
LESCAUT [from the inn]: Manon!
MANON: I must leave you.
[Turning toward the inn] I'm coming!
[To DES GRIEUX] My brother calls me.
DES GRIEUX: You'll return here?
MANON: No, I cannot! Leave me, please!
DES GRIEUX: O lovely one, I beg you!
MANON: You have conquered me.
When it is dark . . .
[She breaks off. Seeing LESCAUT come out onto the balcony of the inn, she quickly joins him. DES GRIEUX folllows her with his glance.]

Giuseppe di Stefano (t), des Grieux; Maria Callas (s), Manon; Giulio Fioravanti (b), Lescaut; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Tullio Serafin, cond. EMI, recorded July 1957

Richard Tucker (t), des Grieux; Renata Tebaldi (s), Manon; Frank Guarrera (b), Lescaut; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fausto Cleva, cond. Live performance, Jan. 17, 1959

Luciano Pavarotti (t), des Grieux; Mirella Freni (s), Manon; Dwayne Croft (b), Lescaut; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. Decca, recorded August 1992


LET'S HEAR THIS MUCH AGAIN, BUT THEN
CONTINUE ON WITH "DONNA NON VIDI MAI"

DES GRIEUX: Never have I beheld a woman like this!
To tell her "I love you"
awakened my spirit to new life.
"Manon Lescaut is my name."
How those fragrant words
wander in my spirit
and caress my quivering heart.
O gentle murmur, ah! may it never cease!
"Manon Lescaut is my name."
Gentle murmur, ah! may it never cease!

Jussi Bjoerling (t), des Grieux; Licia Albanese (s), Manon; Robert Merrill (b), Lescaut; Rome Opera Orchestra, Jonel Perlea, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded July 1954


HERE ARE SOME BONUS PERFORMANCES
OF "DONNA NON VIDI MAI"


PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut: Act I, des Grieux, "Donna non vidi mai"


Luciano Pavarotti, tenor; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, cond. Decca, recorded August 1992

Ben Heppner, tenor; Munich Radio Orchestra, Roberto Abbado, cond. BMG, recorded 1993-94

José Cura, tenor; Philharmonia Orchestra, Plácido Domingo, cond. Erato, recorded June-July 1997

Marcelo Álvarez, tenor; Staatskapelle Dresden, Marcello Viotti, cond. Sony, recorded July 2004


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

In case you haven't guessed, we're going to continue poking around the Massenet and Puccini renderings of the story of Manon and des Grieux, and maybe begin to hear how things go oh so wrong.
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