University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Puccini: Manon Lescaut

09/15/2019 1:00 pm
09/15/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Over the years I have broadcast recordings of all the familiar works in the canon of Giacomo Puccini's operatic output. I'm surprised to note that I have never previously presented Puccini's first big operatic success, Manon Lescaut (1893), even though I twice aired a recording of his second opera Edgar (1889), on Sunday, May 22, 1988 and on Sunday, September 4, 2016. It was a Columbia Masterworks LP release, recorded in 1977 in live concert performance at Carnegie Hall, with Eve Queler conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra. The two big stars in this production were tenor Carlo Bergonzi and soprano Renata Scotto.

Curiously, on Sunday, September 3, 1989 I did in fact broadcast a Manon opera, but it was by the French composer Auber, a work that was first produced in 1856. Massenet came out with a very successful Manon opera in 1884. So before Puccini took up the story, ultimately derived from the 1731 French novel by the Abbe Prevost, Manon was already a popular and familiar literary character on the lyric stage. Puccini's Manon premiered in Turin. When it came to the Metropolitan Opera in 1907 Lina Cavalieri sang in the title role, with Caruso as des Grieux.

Listen today for a vintage 1954 mono recording of Manon Lescaut made in Rome with Jonel Perlea conducting the Rome Opera House Orchestra and Chorus. Legendary soprano Licia Albanese is the girl Manon, the nobleman Chevalier des Grieux is none other than the immortal Swedish tenor Jussi Bjoerling. I make use this afternoon of a 1969 RCA Victrola LP reissue of this landmark recording of Puccini's early masterpiece. It was, at the time of its issue on disc, only the third complete recording of the work. (The first one dates back to 1931.)