Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

OPRY LINKS 1: All-'Manon' Edition!
“If you’re gonna get off on somethin’ you don’t need to know nothin’ about it, music is a universal language.
If it’s opera in Italian, you ain’t supposed to know nothin’ about Italy. You can just sit there and dig on it.”---the late, great Dr. John.

"Manon" by Massenet, and. . ."Manon Lescaut" by Puccini.

Saturdee Opry Links Overture.
The gorgeous intermezzo from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut."

From Puccini's third opera, the one immediately preceding the monument that is "La Boheme," here is "Donna non vidi mai" from "Manon Lescaut." It's short and sweet, but no less affecting for it. Such ardor! "I have never seen a woman like this. . ." You can almost feel Puccini "warming up" for "Boheme." Here is Placido Domingo.
Synopsis: Il Cavaliere Renato des Grieux, a student and young nobleman, is in a square near the Paris gate, Amiens, France, 18th century. He has just met Manon and instantly fallen in love with her. Manon leaves when called by her brother, but promises to return. Des Grieux sings about his feelings for Manon. 

There is another "Manon" opera (actually two others), this one by Jules Massenet---written about a decade before Puccini's. And there is a landmark tenor aria in this "Manon," as there is in Puccini's. It is, not surprisingly, another declaration of love for Manon---yet it is almost dream-like, contrasted with the unrestrained lyricism of Puccini's comparable aria. In fact, it is known as "The Dream" ("La Reve"), as it relates a dream that Des Grieux has had of a near-perfect scene that lacks only Manon. "En Fermant les Yeux."
Here is Jussi Bjorling.
Synopsis: The apartment of Chevalier Des Grieux, Paris, France, 18th century. In order to cheer Manon up, Des Grieux relates to her a dream that he has had. He has dreamed that someday he will own a house surrounded by beautiful flowers and singing birds. However, he realizes that his dream was still drear because it lacks one thing : Manon. 

That Manon was a real man-killer. Are we allowed to say that in the era of "metoo?" Well, she was. A demimonde (beautiful French word for "loose woman"), she drove a young student (Des Grieux) nuts with her beauty, "accidentally" murdered her sugar daddy (Geronte), wound up sent to a penal colony in New Orleans---with poor Des Grieux following, helplessly in love. Eventually she dies of starvation and heartbreak in the New Orleans desert (right, there are no deserts in New Orleans, but this is opera, folks.) At one point in the Massenet version of the story, poor Des Grieux enters a seminary to try to forget this femme fatale. Here is the aria from that moment, "Ah! fuyez douce image" ("Ah! Vanish, sweet memory. . .") in an arresting rendering by tenor Piotr Beczala. Beautiful, wrenching. 
Synopsis: After entering the seminary in order to forget about Manon, Des Grieux finds that he is unable to forget his love for her. He prays to God to remove this shadow from his heart.

Poor Des Grieux. Such a nice fella. Captivated by crazy Manon, who can no more resist the lure of riches than a goat can resist a can. Here the amiable student finds Manon in the apartment she shares with her sugar-daddy, Geronte, and convinces her to run away with him. Yet Manon can't do it without first grabbing a few handfuls of jewels bestowed on her by Geronte, which disgusts the noble lad. Here again is the great Domingo singing of his outrage over Manon's greed (apologies for video quality, but vocal makes up for it.) "Ah Manon, mi tradisce," from the Puccini version of the opera. 
Translation: (search for "tradisce") 

Yes, in the various "Manon" operas (by Puccini, Massenet, Auber), Manon does sing! I know you were wondering! It's not all tenorial oratorial (what'd he say?). In the Massenet version, there is a sentimental aria (imagine that--sentimentality in opera!) in which flighty Manon bids farewell to a table. What? Seems the lady has been told that Des Grieux will be kidnapped by his father's men in order to get him away from her. (Good idea!) She knows that the happy days they have spent in Des Grieux's apartment will soon be over, and bids adieu to the table at which she and Des Grieux shared many a Scrabble game---well, you know, happy times. . .Here is wonderful Beverly Sills with "Allons! adieu, notre petite table!" With English subtitles.
(The "adieu" portion begins at roughly 2:00.)

And just for fun, here is Maria Callas with the same aria, in concert. Piquant as hell. (Again, the "good part" begins around the two-minute mark.)

Daniel Auber was an astonishingly prolific author of (French) comic operas, "Fra Diavolo" perhaps being the only title you might recognize. He also wrote a "Manon Lescaut" around 1850, however, apparently keeping it a romp until the ending, in which Manon, uh, dies. Bit of a letdown. It is the least remembered and least performed of the three operas based on the 17th century "Manon" novel, and this is the most famous aria from it. Wait, wait---don't run away. This is fun! Well, not exactly like dropping acid in a rainforest, but fun, nonetheless.This is Manon's solo, "C'est l'histoire amoureuse", also known as "L'éclat de rire" or the "Laughing Song". It is not a free-standing aria – in fact, it forms part of the act 1 finale – but ever since its creation it has been a chosen showcase singers showing off technique. Given the title, "That's the History of Love," it is small wonder that laughter is involved. (No translation available.) Here is the fabulously charming Sumi Jo, having a little fun with you. That's the story of, that's the glory of love. . . 

Now back to our regularly scheduled Puccini "Manon." Okay, folks, I'm a sucker. I'm posting this not because the tenor is superb, or wonderful, or beguiling, or anything very special. I'm doing it solely because he has a weird name, obviously designed to get attention (I know something about this.) All that aside, this is the little aria from "Manon Lescaut" in which Des Grieux essentially sings, "For Sale: Infatuation with Pretty Girl." (Careful what you wish for, you're liable to end up with Manon.) I am posting this selection, as I said, because the guy is named, I swear, Attila Kiss B. Right. Attila Kiss B. Here is "Trav voi, belle." ("Among you, beautiful. . .") 
And, just so you know how it can be sung by a better tenor: 

You wonder if this Massenet aria gave Puccini an idea for Musetta's character in "Boheme." Well, I do, anyhow. From the Massenet "Manon," here is the scene where that naughty but irresistible demimonde essentially expresses her life philosophy, which is essentially: bang your brains out while you can, pardon my vernacular. Here is someone who probably knows a thing or two about this, wonderful Anna Netrebko, with
"Obeissons quand leur voix appelle" ("Obey when their voices are calling") following "Je marche sur tous les chemins" ("I go anywhere the equal of any sovereign.") Correct, it's two, two, two arias in one! With English subtitles!
Setting: A busy square in Paris, France, 18th century
Synopsis: Manon appears in the crowd and tells her admirers about her philosophy to live only for the moment, caring not what happens afterwards. After all, there is little time in youth. One should spend it loving, singing, and dancing. 
Here is a better quality video from a different performance of "Marche" only:

The love duet from act 2 of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" has some great moments, and definitely seems to foreshadow the emotive power of "Boheme" (Puccini's next opera.) Des Grieux confronts Manon about her infidelity, which was motivated by greed. You can hear in the music the unique sort of emotional tumult and angst felt in young love. At least I think you can. I will let Placido Domingo and Renata Scotto take it from here. 

Our "Manon" SOL edition ends with. . .the end. Of Puccini's version, that is. Banished to America to a labor camp, Manon escapes. She is joined by Des Grieux, and they flee into a desert. They are at the end of their strength, collapsing from thirst and exhaustion. Des Grieux leaves Manon, searching for water. When he returns, he finds her dying. In her last breath she says she loves him. Here is "Sola, perduta, abbandonata," or "Lonely, lost, abandoned." With Placido Domingo and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. 

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
"What a wonderful thing is a sunny day!" Even on a Theremin.


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