[Met Performance] CID:180370

Manon Lescaut
Metropolitan Opera House, Wed, December 3, 1958

Manon Lescaut received six performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Ronald Eyer in the January 1, 1959 issue of Musical America

The revival, after two seasons, of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" again revealed what seems to be a trend at the Metropolitan this year toward turning performances into vocal marathons in which the leading singers seek to outdo each other in sheer power and virtuosity while the opera, the principal entity, recedes into the background and becomes a mere peg upon which to hang gallery-shaking arias.

Heaven knows we should be thankful to have a Renata Tebaldi to sing Manon and a Richard Tucker to sing Des Grieux, but these incomparable voices, by themselves, are not enough to bring alive Prevost's novel which, from the theatrical viewpoint, is already an oblique and rickety affair in the Puccini version. The tendency is to sing with the toes, figuratively or literally, in the footlights and seek a minimum of involvement with the drama and with the other people in the production.

Not that there weren't moments of high dramatic tension. The Havre embarkation scene in the third act brought forth grippingly emotional performances from both Miss Tebaldi and Mr. Tucker and the second act, with the dancing lesson, followed by Des Grieux's reappearance, the hectic preparations for flight, and the arrest of Manon, was a brilliantly devised series of events, much enhanced by the well-developed and coordinated performances of Frank Guarrera as Lescaut, Ezio Flagello as Geronte, and Alessio De Paolis as the Ballet Master. There was touching pathos in Miss Tebaldi's "In quelle trine morbide," and shattering dramatic force in Mr. Tucker's plea to the ship's captain, "Guardate, pazzo son".

But these highlights were not enough to make a production of compelling unity and drive. Even the precision of Fausto Cleva's baton and the unflagging rectitude of his pace could not bring the elements together into a satisfactory whole. Part of the trouble, it must be acknowledged, lay in the opera itself. With this, his first successful work, Puccini was not yet a master of timing. The first act gets off to a painfully slow start and there are some awkward transitions. At times, too, under obvious Wagnerian influences, the orchestration is apt to become heavy and the singers, then, are forced to work too hard against it.

This revival, by the way, is part of the Metropolitan's celebration of the Puccini centenary. It would have seemed a more pertinent undertaking, historically as well as musically, to have reassembled the operas of the Trittico, "Il Tabarro," "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi," on a single bill. They, along with "Girl of the Golden West," are the only works of Puccini that had their premieres at the Metropolitan and they never are heard today as they were intended to be heard-as a trilogy.

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