Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday Classics: "The (Hi)story of the Chévalier des Grieux and of Manon"


MASSENET: Manon: Prelude to Act II

New Phliharmonia Orchestra, Julius Rudel, cond. ABC-EMI-DG, recorded July 1970

by Ken

This isn't an excerpt you're apt to hear often outside the context of the opera (it's not meant to stand alone, of course), but I've plunked it in here, not just because it's such a lovely two minutes' worth of music, but because it directly follows the chunk of duet we heard between Manon and the Chévalier des Grieux in Friday night's preview, when they declared so joyfully that they would live in Paris, tous les deux, tous les deux. Because as Act II begins, they are indeed living in Paris, tous les deux, and for this while at least, they're blissfully happy.

Without worrying about dramatic context for a moment, let's jump to later in the act, near the end, in fact, and hear des Grieux share with Manon a dream he's had -- one of the most celebrated and beautiful specimens of the lyric-tenor repertory, often known simply as "The Dream." (Not to worry, in the click-through we're going to hear it in proper dramatic context.)

Manon: Act II, Recitative and aria, des Grieux, "Instant charmant, où la crainte fait trêve" ("Enchanting moment, where fear is dispelled") . . . "En fermant les yeux ("On closing my eyes")
DES GRIEUX: Enchanting moment, where fear is dispelled,
where we are just the two of us.
Listen, Manon, while walking
I just had a dream.

On closing my eyes, I see
in the distance a humble retreat,
a little house,
all white, in the depths of the woods.
In its tranquil shadows
clear and joyous streams,
in which leaves are reflected,
sing with the birds.
It's Paradise. Oh, no!
Everything there is sad and morose,
for there's one thing lacking there.
Still needed there is Manon!
Our life will be there,
if you wish it, o Manon!

Jussi Bjoerling, tenor; orchestra, Donald Voorhees, cond. NBC Radio concert, Jan. 8, 1951

Léopold Simoneau, tenor; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Paul Strauss, cond. DG, recorded 1953

[in Italian] Beniamino Gigli, tenor; orchestra, John Barbirolli, cond. Live performance, London, June 26, 1931

In good time the story of Manon and des Grieux (as told originally by the ex-Benedictine Abbé Prévost in his 1731 novel L'Histoire du Chévalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, bearing in mind that the French histoire conveniently means both "story" and "history") will turn not just wrong but horribly, disastrously wrong. For this week, though, I want to focus on what's right about the relationship, from the standpoints of both participants, as I'll explain in a moment.





At 5:14 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Your feeds are breaking up for me.
There is a dance from the classical ballet Manon which is performed by Polina Semionova - Igor Zelensky and choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan on You Tube which I love. What a great composer.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

For anyone who's having trouble with the audio clips, I can only encourage you to try again at another tiime. Even I can imagine all sorts of limiting factors, starting with usage of the website. I can vouch for the fact that all of this post's clips work fine when the cyberstars are aligned correctly. Considering how much work preparing those damned clips takes, it's not much consolation, but I'm afraid it's the best I can do.



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