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MANON LESCAUT (1890 - 1893)

Land Of PucciniLibrettists: Ruggero Leoncavallo, Marco Praga, Domenico Oliva, Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica, Giulio Ricordi, Giacomo Puccini

Background: After the critical but not financial success of Edgar, GiacomoPuccini was still terribly poor and struggling to pay the rent and keep his family warm. Although it was Fontana who suggested Manon Lescaut, Puccini turned to his friend Ruggero Leoncavallo in 1889 to write the libretto, beginning what would be a string of no less than seven different librettists, including the composer himself, and his publisher, Ricordi. Turmoil within the family, his own ill health and the sudden and unexpected death of his younger brother all provided the backdrop against which Puccini composed his Manon. However, it was during this period that Puccini found a rooms on the edge of the lake at Torre del Lago, which he had first visited in 1884, that he rented and made his home. Settled at last, he was however 'desperate' over the libretto, not having received a version from Leoncavallo that he liked. He dismissed his old friend in the spring of 1890, then turned first to dramatist Marco Praga for help, who in turn asked poet Domenico Oliva to write the verse. By the end of the year after months of collaborating together, Praga and Oliva gave up, exhausted by Puccini's frequent requests for revisions, cuts and changes. At this stage, Ricordi, the publisher, stepped in, suggesting that Giuseppe Giacosa, a distinguished man of letters, completely rewrite the libretto. Giacosa looked to librettist Luigi Illica for help, forming what was perhaps the most successful composer/librettist team of Puccini's career. The three spent most of 1891 working on the opera, and by June 1892, the final draft of the libretto more or less as we know it, was approved. However, it is interesting to note that even in August of 1982, Puccini appealled again to Leoncavallo for help. Thirty years later, he was still making minor changes to his score. Manon Lescaut premiered at Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1893, and was Puccini's first big success, bringing him at last the validation and financial security he so desperately needed.

Synopsis: Manon, a young girl from a good family, is about to enter a convent. Accompanied by her brother, Lescaut, she breaks her journey at an inn in a small town, where she meets Des Grieux, who is immediately captivated by her beauty. During a brief meeting, they fall in love. One of Manon's travelling companions in the coach is the elderly but rich Geronte de Ravoir, who has designs on Manon. He secretly arranges a coach with the innkeeper with which he plans to steal Manon away, but his plot is overheard by Des Grieux's friend, who tells him of the arrangement. The young lovers take advantage of the situation by using the coach to elope to Paris . Geronte is furious, but Lescaut assures him that his sister will soon tire of the spartan lifestyle of her lover, and that it will be no trouble for him to deliver Manon to her wealthy admirer. Act II: Lescaut was right: Manon has moved in with Geronte and is living the life of luxury. But she is bored with the emptiness of her life with him and longs for the simple pleasures she once enjoyed with Des Grieux. Lescaut, sensing her melancholia, goes to find her knight. Soon he returns with Des Grieux, and a passionate reconciliation between them follows, which is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Geronte. Hurling ominous threats at the two, he leaves, and Manon and Des Grieux decide to flee, but not before Manon has collected the jewels Geronte has given her. The delay is fatal: before they can escape, the Royal Guards arrive, led by Geronte, and arrest Manon as a thief and a prostitute. Act III opens at dawn, in a square at the port next to the jail where Manon and several other loose women are awaiting their deportation to America . Lescaut and Des Grieux are planning her escape, but their attempt fails, and the women are led out for a roll-call before being taken on board the ship that will take them away forever. Crazy with love for Manon, De Grieux beseeches the Captain to take him aboard as well, working for this passage. The Captain, moved by Des Grieux's show of emotion, consents. Act IV opens with a desert scene: having landed in New Orleans , the lovers are trying to make their way to an English settlement across a vast desert. Exhausted and thirsty, Manon is close to death, and expresses her fear of dying alone in such stark and lonely surroundings. Des Grieux goes to find water but returns unsuccessful, finding Manon dying. With her last breath, she pledges her undying love for him.

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