Manon Manon Jules Massenet Opéra-comique in five acts, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Philippe Gille from the novel written by l’abbé Prévost, L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut(1731-1753), created at the Opéra-Comique, in Paris, the 19th of January 1884. New production of the Opéra national de Paris Length : 3 :45, with 2 intermissions Additional song between acts I & II and IV & V: C’est lui, music by Georges Van Parys, lyrics by Roger Bernstein, sung by Joséphine Baker (from the film Zouzou, 1934) Opéra Bastille, originally scheduled from 26/02 until 10/04 2020, but due to a strike and to the coronavirus, the show was performed two times (04 and 07/03) and a third time (10/03), without audience, to be filmed by François-René Martin and then broadcasted. Creators Conductor : Dan Ettinger Director : Vincent Huguet Set designer: Aurélie Maestre Costume designer : Clémence Pernoud Light designer : Bertrand Couderc Choreography : Jean-François Kessler Dramaturgy : Louis Geisler Chorus master : José Luis Basso Assistant director : Sophie Petit Assistant director for the Opéra de Paris : Pascal Neyron Musical preparation : Sylvie Barret et Muriel Berard Assistant conductor : Chris Crans Cast Manon : Pretty Yende / Amina Edris Le chevalier des Grieux : Benjamin Bernheim / Stephen Costello Lescaut : Ludovic Tézier Le comte des Grieux : Roberto Tagliavini Guillot de Morfontaine : Rodolphe Briand Brétigny : Pierre Doyen Poussette : Cassandre Berthon Javotte : Alix Le Saux Rosette : Jeanne Ireland The hotelier : Philippe Rouillon Two guards : Julien Joguet et Laurent Laberdesque Joséphine : Danielle Gabou Dancers : Clara Belenus Anne Cordary Lisa Gonzales Emmanuelle Jay Yasmine Lepe Iamnia Montalvo Hernandez Tidgy Château Anthony Couroyer Pearl Ebene Maxime Pannetrat Daniel Pop Stoyan Zmarzlik Orchestra and Choir of the Opéra national de Paris Photos :© Julien Benhamou and Elena Bauer / OnP for the large scale Note on the staging Vincent Huguet Mad about Manon “ Yes, I will dance, sing and act all my life! That is what I was born for. To live is to dance. I would love to die breathless, exhausted, at the end of a dance or a song.” Joséphine Baker Manon is the girl who refuses, “in a burst of laughter”, to embrace the future laid out before her. She is the girl who, in a street one night, looks up at the tall lit windows through which she can see people partying, dancing and flirting, and decides that that is the life she will do anything to have. She discovers her instant appeal to men and to women, to the young and the old, to anyone who lays eyes on her, not knowing if it is a gift or a curse. She will learn from experience that it is both. Manon, the “astounding sphinx”, plays to the gallery and brings down the house, in an era that is carefree and impulsive, thirsty for life yet anxious about the future, steeped in a sense of foreboding. When Manon sings, it is always to say carpe diem – “who knows about tomorrow!” – as she throws herself body and soul into a hedonism fuelled less by a love of attention than by a sense of urgency, a cry from the heart that acts like a magnet to the inconstant and disreputable crowd of admirers who worship her and make her queen of their nights, a new beacon in their dissolute lives. Manon comes from other parts; she has an air of mystery about her, an accent, an elusiveness that drive people wild. She carries with her the melancholy of a world that she alone knows, echoed in the hypnotic minuet we hear in the distance. Those clustering relentlessly around her, fighting over her as they might over a work of art, seem oblivious of Manon’s words to her chevalier in Abbé Prévost’s novel (Manon Lescaut): “it is the fidelity of the heart alone that I value”. Des Grieux alone, perhaps, with his child’s soul and teenager’s heart: through his rapturous dreams and voices moving in mysterious ways he builds his blind faith in Manon, and ends up believing in her as he might believe in heaven, with growing fanaticism. Will he lose his way? Does he know where he is heading? His passion for her is unwavering, he is younger, more handsome and, most of all, much purer than his rivals; their sense of urgency is not the same as Manon’s: she wants to live, fast and well, before the lights go out, while they have something to prove, and to prove to themselves, about their power and wealth and sexuality, and they think the solution is to possess her. Manon has become the centre of this small world, at once its arbiter and its prey, on whom men’s desires and ambitions are projected, crystallizing their ambiguities; she is the woman they cannot do without. Manon is an obsession. Love, money, music, dancing, even God: she is the key to it all. Manon is clever and knows how to play with her power. But like the carnival king, she will be burned, along with everything she represents, all that she has permitted. Manon is an interlude, a burst of optimism and life-giving energy in a world in limbo between two wars, a woman who fears nothing except unhappiness. Her emancipation fascinates and irritates: she comes from nowhere, escaping the convent as others escape poverty, jail or marriage, and conquers Paris, just as Gaby Deslys, Mistinguett, Suzy Solidor and Josephine Baker did in the roaring twenties. Like them, she is a cabaret singer, something of an actress, a dancer of sorts, and, most of all, she has charisma. But Manon lives too fast, goes too far, and the society that put her on a pedestal will tear her down. With her gone, “all the brilliance of the fête vanishes”, but, in the opera’s final moments, thanks to Des Grieux’s unconditional love, she is transformed, like the nymph Callisto, not into a constellation but into a brilliant star like a diamond and like the rage to live that, from generation to generation, she continues to embody.